Solar Southwest

The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Solar PEIS) from by the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy’s EERE have just issued the final report for public comments that identifies 17 zones covering 445 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert appropriate for fast-tracking large-scale industrial solar energy development along with the mitigation strategies, policies and regulations. If all the sites get developed, they could generate 24,000 megawatts of carbon-free electricity by 2030. (But what about their water consumption?)

Original PDF [18mb] here

 As significant as defining appropriate sites for development, the Solar PEIS defines exclusion areas like the Ivanpah Valley on the CA/NV border where BrightSource Energy is already building two projects.

Thirty-two categories of lands are proposed for exclusion from solar development through the Final Solar PEIS (see Final Solar PEIS, Chapter 2). The exclusions proposed include (1) explicit exclusions that will be delineated in the Solar PEIS ROD by a land base that would not change except by future land use plan amendment; and (2) implicit exclusions that will be defined in the Solar PEIS ROD by the presence or absence of a specific resource or condition where the land base may change over time (e.g., critical habitat). Implicit exclusions will be determined at the time of application for individual solar ROWs, and based on information in applicable land use plans as amended, Species’ Recovery Plans, or similar planning or guidance documents, and verified by site-specific information as necessary.

For the purposes of the Solar PEIS and its associated NEPA analysis, the BLM has mapped and estimated the acreage for proposed exclusions in the aggregate based on best available existing information. Data were available to map the following exclusion categories:

  1. BLM-administered lands where development is prohibited by law, regulation, Presidential proclamation or Executive Order (i.e., lands in the National Landscape Conservation System [NLCS]),
  2. Lands having slopes greater than 5%,
  3. Lands with solar insolation levels less than 6.5 kWh/m2/day,
  4. BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern,
  5. Critical habitat for USFWS designated threatened and endangered species,
  6. BLM Right-of-Way Exclusion and Avoidance Areas,
  7. BLM No Surface Occupancy Areas,
  8. Special Recreation Management Areas (note these were not excluded in the State of Nevada or in a portion of the Yuma East SRMA in Arizona), and
  9. Greater sage-grouse habitat in California, Nevada, and Utah; Gunnison’s sage-grouse habitat in Utah; and Desert Wildlife Management Areas, Flat Tailed Horned Lizard habitat, and Mojave Ground Squirrel habitat in California.

As desert tortoises are the charismatic megafauna most impacted by solar farms and a favorite topic of infrascape design, I couldn’t resist sharing this picture accompanying the LATimes article on the PEIS:

Mark Boster/LAtimes

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Beyond environmental trade-offs

Several articles have been gnawing at my subconscious this winter that illustrate the environmental trade-offs needed to move beyond carbon. First up, the NYTimes reported on the failure of IPCC conference in Durban to result in a new green house gas treaty after 17 such annual conferences.

But maybe the task is too tall. The issues on the table are far broader than atmospheric carbon levels or forestry practices or how to devise a fund to compensate those most affected by global warming.

Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for those who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process.

So a different approach is needed then a top-down political process. The solution perhaps is a mix of market driven solutions, local governmental action, and grass-roots individual actions such as those promoted by the Transition Town movement. The market based solutions are the next round of articles that I want to share.

The LATimes has an on going series about trade-offs of the solar energy projects and how we may need to sacrifice large swaths of the mojave deserts for solar. Next up was this article about the the latest snag in the construction of Genesis Solar Energy Project – a new archeological find and stubborn desert kit foxes that won’t relocate after months of ‘passive hazing’. Continue reading