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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Solar Hillside LA

Along the Arroyo Seco between Los Angeles and Pasadena (and visible from the 110), a nursing home has installed a hillside 80-array photovoltaic system on their 11-acre property in the fall of 2010 and ignited a fracas of NIMBYism. The project produces approximately 93% of the facilities net energy needs and is expected to pay for it’s $1.6m price tag in 12 years.


View Larger Map

Check out the news report from abc 7 about the controversy over the project.

The discussion and knee-jerk NIMBY reaction is pretty interested to parse, especially the perception of the political intervention to temporarily halt the project on ‘safety’ grounds (which didn’t halt getting the project built). The owner’s legal response to the city council two-week injunction is here [pdf]. Continue reading

A Solar Farm for Owens Lake

The LATimes recently published a story about a possible new use of the Owens Lake Playa – a 616 acre solar power plant. The Owens Lake Playa is a place that I care about and have dedicated a significant amount of time researching and writing about.

Owens Lake seen from Horseshoe Meadow Road

Here is the Op-Ed I submitted to the LATimes to support the project:

It is important to remember that the Owens Lake Playa is an artificial landscape created by the growth of Los Angeles. While the entire Owens Valley is a sublime landscape, it is not a pristine wilderness. As such, the Owens Valley is an ideal location for locating a large concentrating solar energy facility, especially because the transmission capacity already exists and the potential benefit of further reducing the PM10 dust emissions off the Playa.

Continue reading