Sublime Solar Farm

Photographer Jamey Stillings documents the sublime of Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System for Wired.

Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com


Aerial view of Solar Field One at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) on October 27, 2012. Photo shows completed tower construction and heliostat (pairs of mirrors) installation. Mojave Desert, CA

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Some of his photos evoking the Nazca lines or Michael Heizer’s Complex – this is quite the documentation of the infrastructural sublime.

Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com

Clark Mountain and ground work for future power block of Solar Field One. January 14, 2011.

View north of Ivanpah Solar showing all three solar fields with heliostat installation complete in Solar Field One in the foreground. October 27, 2012.

There is a remarkable amount of intact vegetation beneath the heliostats – making me wonder if it is possible to design a low-impact solar farm?

Installed heliostats in Solar Field One and adjacent section of undisturbed desert terrain of the site’s alluvial fan. January 6, 2012.

Installed heliostats in “safe” or resting position. June 2, 2012

Workers install a heliostat on a pylon in Solar Field One. June 4, 2012.

More of Jamey Stillings pics at Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com. and Stillings’ own website.

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The dark side of solar

The math isn’t adding up for the local economics of solar farms as reported by the LAtimes.

BrightSource Energy’s $2.7-billion Hidden Hills solar power plant in Inyo County was  first estimated to boost the County;s general fund 17%. But this didn’t factor in the federal solar tax exclusion on property. Fewer than 10 local workers get permanent jobs — just 5% of the construction jobs would be filled by county residents, who are likely to spend their money in Nevada – not Inyo County’s population center in Owens Valley. Improvements to public infrastructure like roads would cost the county $11 million to $12 million. Then in perpetuity would be  nearly $2 million a year in additional public safety and other services paid by tax payers. This reality contrasts with the rosy picture painted by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, who promised 1,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent positions, generating wages of nearly $550 million over the life of the project contributing more than $300 million in local and state tax revenues. Not much discussion of the ecological side in the article beyond the expected higher property values and decreased public access to land as habitat mitigation areas are cordoned off.

“We’ve got county residents living in cargo containers near the solar site, seniors living in trailer parks on fixed incomes — they all manage to pay their 1% property tax fee,” said Kevin Carunchio, the county’s administrative official. “Nobody is outright against these projects on ideological grounds or land-use principles. We don’t think we should have to bear the cost for energy that is being exported to metropolitan areas.”

Then there is the visual impacts:

“Residents will live as close as 600 feet from a heliostat field replete with approximately 170,000 mirrors encircling two 750-foot towers as their neighbor.”

BrightSource maintained that the power plant would not create a significant visual impact. Instead the project has been pitched as a potential tourist attraction, with its twin 70-story towers envisioned as a magnet drawing sightseers to the Pahrump Valley.

Carunchio — who is open to most plans to bring attention to the region — is skeptical.

“I can’t believe that people will drive the long way to Death Valley just to look at the Eye of Mordor,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Mojave:

“Southern California is going to become the home to the state’s ability to meet its solar goals,” said Gerry Newcombe, public works director for San Bernardino County. “That’s great, but where are the benefits to the county?”

in San Bernadino County, the $2.2-billion Ivanpah solar project will be proving a $377,000 annual payment to the county in lieu of taxes. This doesn’t cover the public safety costs.

Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to “crush” opponents of solar projects. At the launch of a solar farm near Sacramento, the governor pledged: “It’s not easy. There are gonna be screw-ups. There are gonna be bankruptcies. There’ll be indictments and there’ll be deaths. But we’re gonna keep going — and nothing’s gonna stop me.” …

“The solar companies are the beneficiaries of huge government loans, tax credits and, most critically for me, property tax exemptions, at the expense of taxpayers,” said [Riverside] county Supervisor John Benoit, referring to a variety of taxpayer-supported loans and grants available to large solar projects as part of the Obama administration’s renewable energy initiative. “I came to the conclusion that my taxpayers need to get something back.”

Solar development isn’t looking as bright as it was – but just contrast this with permanent destruction of groundwater, nearby resident’s health, and green house gas emissions of fracking and the negative impacts of solar still make it the best energy source (other than conservation) we have.  The best place for solar is on roofs and disturbed lands – not intact desert habitat There is a place for large utility scale solar energy development, but it needs to be done wisely, not quickly.

Solar power plants burden counties that host them – latimes.com.

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.


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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

Karen Piper on Owens Lake

Over on Places, there is a thoughtful essay on Owens Lake by english professor and Ridgecrest native,  Karen Piper, titled ‘Dreams, Dust and Birds: The Trashing of Owens Lake’ about the unfeasible proposed solar farm.

Preliminary engineering tests show that if solar panel platforms were placed at the southern end of the nearly dry 110-square-mile Owens Lake, they would sink as much as several inches into extremely corrosive soil.” [LATimes]

Beyond offering some fresh views on the infrastructural void left by the Los Angeles Aquaduct, the editors at Places asked to use one of my photos (above)!

The post also contains one of the first pics of ‘moat and row’ in the bottom left below:

Top: Owens Lake and the Sierra Nevada. [by Satoshi Nakagawa] Bottom left: Moat and Row dust control at Owens Lake. [by Karen Piper] Bottom right: The Karen Piper’s white Kia. [by Karen Piper]