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You too can be a biolomagist

2013-02-09 12.26.08

There’s a 30+-acre solar project proposed for a spot of Joshua tree woodland less that a mile from the house we’re renting here in Joshua Tree — significantly less than a mile — and I went for a walk on the site today.

My gut feeling when I heard about the project was that this isn’t the right place for it. I’m a big fan of smaller solar, and I have no problem living near a facility of that size. In fact, I’d love to live directly under a few kilowatts’ worth of photovoltaic panels. When people started calling me a NIMBY a few years back for publicly opposing some of the huge solar projects on publicly owned tortoise habitat in the Mojave, I thought “WTF are they talking about? I want this in my backyard!” Well, not a 750-foot  power tower surrounded by a hundred thousand heliostats the size of billboards, but you know. Solar. Fill the parking lots and the roofs and the bus shelters with solar panels. I want to see them everywhere I look, mostly.

But this site happens to be on a strip of land connecting our local National Park with a square mile of undeveloped land the local land trust just bought specifically due to that connection to the park, for wildlife linkage purposes. This project would cut that connectivity. It’s full of wildlife and mature vegetation. Very mature.  During my walk today I saw at least five shrubs likely more than 1,000 years old, and I wasn’t being anything like a thorough surveyor. There were tons of burrows and tons of scat, rabbit and coyote and possible bobcat. The plot is obviously well-used by wildlife. There are plenty of places in the area that would be more suitable for solar, I’m thinking.

2013-02-09 12.30.27

But because I do live here, and could reasonably be accused of NIMBYism — construction dust will likely blow into our yard, for instance — I wanted to scope out the site and become slightly better informed. I want to read the plans when they come out, talk to the proponents, make up my mind carefully.

So I walked around on the site for a bit.

As you can see from the photos so far, the Joshua trees on the site have been tagged. The proponent says that was done in order to inventory them, which seems reasonable. They are unlikely to be just cut down: villagers would show up with pitchforks and torches and such, as we love our Joshua trees here. They may be dug up and transplanted, an operation with a less than 50 percent survival rate. At any rate, for whatever end purpose, all the Joshua trees on the site have been tagged with pink ribbon.

Even the baby ones, like the 5-to-10-year-old tree at right. Just a wee cute little thing.

If it turns out that this patch of land won’t work for a solar array, then they picked the wrong place to try to push it through regardless. Aside from having an obscure but irritable desert blogger in the neighborhood, the site is right up against and upwind of a number of properties owned by relatively opinionated people, including two separate households of attorneys on the staff of a national environmental group known for its litigiousness. It may be that the developer decides to use this land as mitigation land for other nearby projects: preserving it to make up for the disturbance of less-valuable habitat elsewhere. Or maybe they’ll persuade us all that the project is right. We’ll see.

But what I found on the site this morning doesn’t bode well.

2013-02-09 12.46.42

 

These two yuccas, in right foreground and center mid-ground, were tagged by the crew during Joshua Tree Tagging Day. You can see the tags if you look closely. Can anyone tell me the problem with that?

Anyone besides Chas?

They’re not Joshua trees. They’re Mojave yuccas, Yucca schidigera rather than the Joshua tree’s Yucca brevifolia. They are roughly similar to a Joshua tree, enough so that tourists will call them by the wrong name. For anyone who’s worked with desert plants for even a little bit of time confusing the two is like mistaking an aardvark for a giraffe.

I found three Mojave yuccas tagged as Joshua trees. They weren’t tagging Mojave yuccas as well, because there were hundreds on the site, from babies to matriarchs, not tagged at all.

This doesn’t bode well for the solar developer’s knowledge of actual conditions on the ground. Protip: when hiring consulting field biologists, make sure they don’t claim to have graduated from the Larry The Cable Guy School of Biologism.

Comments

  1. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    Gee, it’s good to see that they are taking environmental impact (or whatever) studies seriously.

    Also, lets not forget the wells, although I’m sure you, Chris, have not.

  2. says

    So are you saying that they can use none of the land for solar? Are they planning to use all of it? How about being realistic and saying they can use a maximum of 5% or whatever number of a particular habitat? Are the locals so outraged when the developers build houses – like yours?

    Why are you even living there?

  3. The Mellow Monkey says

    It makes me wonder how the mistake was made. Did they get people who had never been in the area at all? Even a random person from the region who didn’t know the names would usually know “that’s the funny thing that kinda looks like a Joshua tree but isn’t.”

  4. says

    So, people want to save the environment. By placing solar panels in a location where it will greatly impact the environment.

    Can I have whatever they’re having? I mean, I do live in Holland, with easy access to pot and all, but you guys seem to get the really groovy stuff.

  5. says

    erikschepers, the crazy thing is that there are places within two miles that would be just fine for a few acres of solar. But they pick a critical wildlife linkage.

  6. says

    Did they get people who had never been in the area at all?

    That’s a good question! Though given our species’ ability to not pay attention to what’s right under our noses, it could well have been a local kid. It wasn’t the fault of the person who made the mistake, actually: it’s the fault of whoever did quality control.

  7. brazenlucidity says

    I assume they chose this spot over a possible one only a couple miles away for an actual reason. If not it would seem they wouldn’t have a problem with relocating there. What are the reasons given? I’m curious to hear their arguments for this specific spot.

  8. Ogvorbis says

    erikschepers, the crazy thing is that there are places within two miles that would be just fine for a few acres of solar. But they pick a critical wildlife linkage.

    Is it possible that the company is using biologists who do not grok desert environments, and using a piece of land that is sure to create controversy in order to create a shit storm? If desert biologists (the ones who know their shit!) and local groups pull out the stops to stop or relocate or alter this project, maybe the company hopes to be able to discredit the stance of environmentalists among the less involved public? Sort of, “See? These environmentalist whackos want solar power but they will block every project no matter where! Send us money so we can lobby to get a law against these anti-energy groups etc.”

    Or am I being way too cynical?

  9. says

    We’re still finding out why they chose the spot. My sense is “it was for sale.”

    No EIS unless they do something that triggers NEPA, for instance finding tortoises.

    And Og, I don’t think you’re too cynical, but in this case I think the developers just in over their heads a little bit.

    More time and talk will reveal a lot.

  10. Rey Fox says

    Funny, I was just turned down for a job with a consulting company in California because I’m not a local.

  11. says

    If you live just a mile away why are you so ill informed about the project and why were you not at the meetings where it was planned? I have helped stop a number of ill planned developments.

    You never did answer my question about what percentage could be used.

    Oh and thanks for the snide remarks.

  12. Adela Doiron says

    You’d think people would be leaping at the idea of solar panels over parking lots because then their cars would be shaded. I’ve seen wars over the few parking spots shaded by token landscape trees.

  13. says

    If you live just a mile away why are you so ill informed about the project and why were you not at the meetings where it was planned? I have helped stop a number of ill planned developments.

    You never did answer my question about what percentage could be used.

    Oh and thanks for the snide remarks.

    There were no meetings, that’s why. Long-time neighbors didn’t know about this project until someone noticed the tagged trees.

    What percentage of what? Habitat in general? The site? The Mojave Desert? You’re going to have to ask a much more intelligent question before petulantly demanding an answer.

    And as for the snide, physician heal thyself. Unless you’re one of those people who’s constitutionally incapable of knowing when you’re being a fucking asshole to total strangers, in which case: chrispollard, you’re being a fucking asshole to total strangers. cut it out.

    If you can change course and ask actual questions, maybe we can have a conversation. If not, well, I’ve probably got some Mojave Desert rabbit videos here somewhere.

  14. says

    Did you remove the ribbons from the Mojave yuccas?

    Nope! Not my place to do so. But I’ll let the developer know.

    I did remove a piece of trash from a cholla though.

  15. says

    You never did answer my question about what percentage could be used.

    How does the question have anything to do with whether this specific plot of land is suitable for this project or whether the tagging team knows what its doing? In case you missed it, those were the main points of the post.
    Besides, placing such restrictions on a percentage basis seems quite simple-minded to me. Surely a more sensible approach is a case-by-case evaluation, taking into account the need for the project vs. the environmental damage.
    Also, it’s entirely possible that some parts of the plot are more important than others, more vulnerable to damage from the project or more crucial due to being overall more rare. In short, a simple blanket rule of 5% (or whatever other percentage) is almost guaranteed to end up a big mess.

  16. says

    You’d think people would be leaping at the idea of solar panels over parking lots because then their cars would be shaded. I’ve seen wars over the few parking spots shaded by token landscape trees.

    My city in the east bay is doing that. They are planning to cover municipal office parking and city-owned public parking with solar canopies. The nearby VA hospital has them, they just finished installing them.

  17. machintelligence says

    I’m glad you didn’t remove the tags. A friend of mine spent several days tagging trees to lay out a grid to study Abert’s squirrel behavior and had some “helpful” folks remove all of his tags. He ended up having to post signs explaining why he was tagging trees in the park.

  18. viajera says

    Protip: when hiring consulting field biologists, make sure they don’t claim to have graduated from the Larry The Cable Guy School of Biologism.

    N < 5, but I’ve had several former students and interns hired by consulting companies straight out of undergrad. No, they were not my best students / interns, not by a long shot. Yes, they had little to no previous field experience in the region or with the system / species they were hired to survey. No, I have no idea how they got hired, beyond being Good Ol’ Boys in training. Yes, their starting salary was substantially greater than I’ve yet made in my 15+ year career. No, I’m not bitter – who me?

    machintelligence @23:

    A friend of mine spent several days tagging trees to lay out a grid to study Abert’s squirrel behavior and had some “helpful” folks remove all of his tags.

    Heh, been there, done that. I’ve had people steal bird mist-netting poles (just cheap electrical conduit), rebar, and rope from field sites many times. A friend of mine once had a little old lady leading a bird walk actually cut a bird out of a mist net with her sewing scissors and put it in her purse, all wrapped up in netting, thinking she was helping. If you’ve ever worked around mist nets, you know the reality is quite the opposite. It took her ages to get that poor, stressed little bird out of that tangled mess. Thankfully it was ok in the end.

  19. says

    So you’ve become a Pharyngula snob pretty quickly. The questions were clear enough. You could answer them however you liked. As in “if they only used 10% for actual panel supports the animals could easily pass”.

    You apparently have done little research on the project, in reality, and are just grandstanding.

    I am surprised that you have failed to come up with any factual information on the installation, like plans, that should have been submitted by now or in the absence of plans that you live in an area that has no planning control and haven’t fixed that.

    Let us know when you have some real information to share with us and not just speculation.

  20. says

    @chrispollard

    You’re coming off as an obnoxiously self-righteous blowhard and I see no sign that you have any grasp of this particular issue, nor of ecological matters in general. It sounds to me like you have a grudge and are looking for any excuse to get annoyed, as evidence by the fact that even your very first post carried the same attitude and the “pharyngula snob” comment. You’re clearly coming here with baggage.

    I suggest you leave it at the door and start over. At the very least, stop pretending you speak for anybody but yourself.

  21. microraptor says

    Wow, usually it takes a post about the treatment of women in the skeptic/atheist community to attract as many self-righteous twits as this thread’s summoned.

  22. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Georget the liberturd, arrogant, ignorant, arrogant, ignorant, arrogant, ignorant…ad infinitum. And never, ever humorous.

  23. Crudely Wrott says

    I know that the south west deserts enjoy prolonged periods of sunshine and I know that not very many people rush madly about them but . . . why not take advantage of an already existing possibility for solar installation? Namely, the roof tops of buildings. Most roofs of municipal buildings do little more than support air conditioning equipment and leak from time to time. Usually around the connections to the AC.

    Solar arrays mounted above every possible building could produce prodigious amounts of wattage and could all be linked to the grid with only a little more hassle than giant grids over desert habitat. Plus they would necessarily by tipped to the south and could serve to direct rain into cisterns and thereby lessen the strain on aquifers and municipal wells. Roofing contractors might see a drop off in repair calls but building owners and their tenants would reap a small windfall in expense and a larger one in peace of mind. Not to mention that cooling costs would be reduced.

    Grandiose plans to build huge arrays of solar and wind power installations have an immediate appeal to engineers and contractors and local politicians. The rewards that they enjoy are short term and limited. Joe and Mary Dokes usually end up with inflated utility bills.

    Distributed systems have long been shown to be less expensive, more reliable and more adaptable than large, centralized systems.

    And, shit, I just can’t see why anyone would want to condemn any amount of desert acreage to permanent shade. It just ain’t natural, not to mention the flora and fauna that would be really pissed off!

    Desert, to the same extent as open prairie and arctic tundra and riparian zones are not disposable resources. Their value is mostly in the way they combine to create a favorable environment for a diversity of life and the overall health of the planet.

    More immediately wonderful is how varied landscapes and niches appeal to human nature once we look at them closely. There are unexpected adventures and joys in every square yard of a natural landscape; one has only to learn how to look in order to treasure what is left.

    Please, let’s not keep covering them over.

  24. says

    Let us know when you have some real information to share with us and not just speculation.

    The post was about mis-tagging of plant species. You failed to comprehend that. Hence the note about reading comprehension.

    The questions were clear enough. You could answer them however you liked. As in “if they only used 10% for actual panel supports the animals could easily pass”.

    Which would be completely meaningless without a number of surveys of the site. Conducted by herpetologists, botanists, hydrologists, and geologists among others. They would involve both physical sciences and animal behavior sciences. Making sure there’s enough room for a bighorn to pass between two panels doesn’t mean that bighorn will get within a mile of the site once the construction happens.

    Those surveys have largely not been done. Thus the information does not yet exist.

    I am surprised that you have failed to come up with any factual information on the installation, like plans, that should have been submitted by now or in the absence of plans that you live in an area that has no planning control and haven’t fixed that.

    Emphasis added to show just exactly how much of an idiot I’m banhammering.

  25. Snoof says

    Are we sure georget isn’t comradebob? The way xe doesn’t actually address anything in the post or comments, but spews out what appears to be pre-written spam of the kind a keyword-search bot would think is relevant is very familiar.

  26. neutrinosarecool says

    For years, California has imported electricity from highly polluting coal plants like the Four Corners operation:

    “Each year the plant emits 157 million pounds of sulfur dioxide, 122 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, 8 million pounds of soot and 2,000 pounds of mercury.”

    Another one that we here in California have gotten a lot of power from is the nearby San Juan Plant:

    “The 1800 megawatt plant emits approximately 100 million pounds of sulfur dioxide, 100 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, 6 million pounds of soot, and at least 1000 pounds of mercury per year.”

    The coal mines that feed these power plants?

    “According to one source, 70 million tons of coal waste (containing cadmium, selenium, arsenic, and lead) has been dumped in the Navajo Mine, and combined with the San Juan mine, amounts to a total of 150 million tons.”

    Sources: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Four_Corners_Steam_Plant

    http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2011/groups-take-action-to-clean-up-one-of-america-s-dirtiest-power-plants

    It seems pretty clear that rooftop solar alone will not be enough to replace these incredibly filthy power sources, and the southwestern deserts are good locations for large-scale solar plants, which don’t spew toxic filth all over their surroundings. The environmental damage caused by coal mining and coal plants is vastly greater than the impact of solar in the desert would be, by any estimation – but clearly, some areas are more suitable than others.

    The whole ‘solar damages visual resources’ argument is a very weak one, however – solar doesn’t damage your lungs and your water table and your atmosphere with all manner of toxins, like coal does, and that’s a bit more important, isn’t it?

    Second, it’s worth pointing out that the largest coal-hauling railroad in the US, BNSF, has been fighting hard to block solar plants in the Mojave, claiming it would ‘blind’ their train operators. This has not been a problem elsewhere, and likely has more to do with BNSF’s interest in keeping their coal trains running:

    http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/energy/stories/new-foe-for-us-solar-energy-railroads

  27. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    It seems pretty clear that rooftop solar alone will not be enough to replace these incredibly filthy power sources,

    Citation needed.

  28. says

    @ neutrinosarecool

    the southwestern deserts are good locations for large-scale solar plants

    I for one, wouldn’t welcome desertification of the deserts through covering them in solar plants. Here’s what Google’s one looks like: Link to picture.
    Fortunately as cells have become cheaper, they have stopped investing in such stuff.

    wrt: Energy requirements. Consider also that demand can quite easily be reduced too. Think LED lighting, efficient insulation, low power computers and the like.

  29. says

    citation needed

    Azkyroth got there in front of me.

    The EPA, through its RePowering America initiative, has identified millions of acres of land in the US that is potentially suitable for solar development but which has limited habitat value if any. These lands include landfills, abandoned mines, work out and selenium-poisoned farms, Superfund sites and the like.

    As for the BNSF railroad issue, neutrinosarecool oversimplifies the controversy significantly.

    The Calico site is so bad, environmentally, that even the Natural Resources Defense Council is opposed to it. The NRDC never saw a desert-killing solar project they didn’t want to bow down to, but they’re suing over environmental damage from Calico.

  30. says

    Here’s what Google’s one looks like:

    BrightSource’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station. You might want to visit Coyote Crossing and search on either BrightSource or Ivanpah to find 75,000 words or so of my opinion on that one. Or just start here.

  31. Crudely Wrott says

    An important point to keep in mind in all arguments, err, discussions of power generation is just how thirsty many of our common electric devices are.

    Advances in the efficiency of heating, cooling, cooking, moving things and personal transport could help to ameliorate much of the disagreements. Not to mention the transmission/storage of energy.

    The less we use, the less we have to make. Fossil fuels are an extremely good way to store energy but they require that living environments first thrive then perish and then be preserved for a very, very long time. We use them up at a much faster rate. Fossil fuels are also the chief source for the foreseeable future, lacking an in place, turn key alternative. Therefore it would seem that using the least amount of energy to accomplish any given task is the wisest course of action.

    Doing so has an added benefit: it frees up a little bit of energy to create useful alternatives. Some of you may not like this but I’d like to see small scale nuclear power plants that would serve larger municipalities and be affordable for a limited market/tax base.

    What may be required, eventually, might be like a Shipstone. Here are a couple of links from Google.
    http://www.correntewire.com/has_stanford_found_the_shipstone
    http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=1381

    Not that such a thing is possible now with current tech, but something like it may become necessary in the future. Given that the demand for energy is increasing in the developing world and that demand in the developed world shows little sign of flagging, no matter how much sun or wind or tide or wave we can tap we will always be behind the curve.

    Conclusion: Make more efficient appliances and motors. Use less. Be a little warmer in the summer (your ancestors got by) and a bit cooler in winter (sweaters, anyone?) and don’t be a lead foot (leave a bit earlier on your commute). Turn off lights in when you leave a room for more than a bathroom break. See if you can manage to survive with just one TV. There are many ways to reduce the strain but most of them depend on individual effort and conscientiousness. No single inventor or corporation or paradigm shift can do it for us. We are, after all, all in this together.

  32. John Morales says

    [OT]

    neutrinosarecool:

    “According to one source, 70 million tons of coal waste (containing cadmium, selenium, arsenic, and lead) has been dumped in the Navajo Mine, and combined with the San Juan mine, amounts to a total of 150 million tons.”

    Seems like quite a resource, should one wish to mine for cadmium, selenium, arsenic, or lead. ;)

  33. Crudely Wrott says

    Seems like a good notion, John. I wonder how big the energy investment would be to extract these materials from the waste. I’ve a notion it would be quite large and there is also the question of what to do with the leftovers, not to mention the cost of compliance with the inevitable laws that would attempt to dictate just how to do so. Just think of the wattage required to draft, publish, distribute and enforce such legislation. Also, the energy consumed by those who would fight not only the process itself but the aforementioned legislation.

  34. Maureen Brian says

    Dear chrispollard,

    Here in the South Pennines – entirely different flora, fauna, topology, climate and continent – we have wildlife corridors to protect the ecology of the valley bottoms which is entirely different from the ecology 30 metres up the hill, let alone on the tops.

    There is a sub-section of the human race which sees any land not already built upon as building land and acts accordingly. For instance, here they tend to clear species-rich areas in the hope that when they later put in their planning application their land will be seen as useless and they will be allowed to build their little boxes upon it. This, though, is not the Mojave Desert and can safely be left to regenerate in a couple of years.

    The last planning application rejected by the local authority sought to place two tall houses at a viewpoint on the edge of a wood, both protected as part of the conservation area, and on top of a badger sett – which they might have known about had they done a wildlife survey. The space was described on the planning application as “waste land” in the hope that it would magically slip through with no-one noticing. I was glad to be there to see it turned down.

    It was ever thus.

  35. unclefrogy says

    the developer does not seem to care enough to get knowledgeable people to do the survey or does not know that the initial inspection was slipshod not a good sign either way.

    some may not know that they have two kinds of solar plants out in the desert in california. the photovoltaic kid with cell panels that generate electrical current and the kind that uses a huge array of “mirrors’ to focus the sun to boil water (a simplified description) the ones I have seen of that type pretty much sweep the ground to gravel all around the “plant” so it is as dead as a parking lot.

    I hope you keep us posted on the further developments in this project.
    .
    as an aside it has always seemed strangely primitive that we use the heat from nuclear decay to boil water to generate electrical power and at the same time we have to spend a great deal of effort to cope with the radiation from the nuclear decay while we have found out how to use the photonic radiation from nuclear fusion to generate electrical energy with photovoltaic cells which seems more sophisticated.

    uncle frogy

  36. says

    @ Chris

    Yeah, they seem to think that these arid areas are “waste land”, when they are anything but. And particularly sensitive as well. And slow to recover. More appropriate would be tropical areas with no dust and, when the solar plants are decommissioned, they are swallowed up by the vegetation in a few years (those parts that are not recycled by nearby communities). Sure beats the slow rusting, over centuries even, that is in store for these – already outdated – giant contraptions.

  37. gingerbaker says

    I know that the south west deserts enjoy prolonged periods of sunshine and I know that not very many people rush madly about them but . . . why not take advantage of an already existing possibility for solar installation? Namely, the roof tops of buildings.

    There are real advantages to large-scale solar installations compared to roof top installations:

    1) The most expensive part of roof-top solar is the cost of actually installing panels on roof tops. Every roof is different, there is no standardized installation hardware, no commonly-used roof systems pre-fabbed for solar installs. No economy of scale. No wholesale pricing, no collective bargaining.

    2) Every rooftop install requires the installation of redundant equipment. A million rooftops means a million converters, a million battery systems or holding tanks, etc. Needless duplication.

    3) Rooftop installs means that individual homeowners have to come up with the money or financing. Not only does this mean that our nation’s green energy future is being financed on the backs of citizens instead of how this national project should be financed – Federally, but also that every install is going to be no larger than what can serve – and usually that means partially serve – one household.

    This is an important reason why renewable energy has been a spectacular failure in the U.S. for the past thirty years. Our greenhouse gas emissions have never been higher. If this is our model for implementing green energy, despite our best intentions, the only outcome is disaster. We need a new paradigm.

    4) Most of our population lives in areas where rooftop solar is not very efficient. Crowded urban settings and climes where the sun does not shine frequently or intensely abound. This is not cost effective – and transitioning to a 100% carbon-free energy infrastructure is going to be expensive enough even if we accomplish this most crucial goal as efficiently as possible.

    We are very lucky to have areas in the U.S. that are ideal for solar installations, and these are in the southwest. The Mojave Desert area, for example, has intense sunshine day in and day out, year in year out.

    I can appreciate the environmental concern over the loss of the Mojave biome. But… according to many climate experts, we have only 5 to 10 years to bring our CO2 emissions to zero, or there will most likely be no way to avoid a world 4C degrees warmer than baseline. A 4C+ world is the end of civilization as we know it. Literally. We must act quickly, and there will be hard pills to swallow..

    If we miss our ever-contracting window of opportunity, preserving desert habitat will be the least of our worries – the entire breadbasket of the U.S. will be desert in less than a century. Large-scale solar installations alone could deliver every calorie of energy we need as a nation, and could be constructed in time to preserve our world as we know it, and at the lowest possible cost to the nation. There are large deserts located around the world that could serve to accomplish the same miracle for most people on the planet. It would be wonderful if we could show the world the way to harness the immense amount of free, clean, inexhaustible energy the sun provides us.

  38. says

    3) Rooftop installs means that individual homeowners have to come up with the money or financing. Not only does this mean that our nation’s green energy future is being financed on the backs of citizens instead of how this national project should be financed – Federally

    It totally sucks that it’s against the laws of physics to finance homeowner solar installations federally and that you can only federally finance things that will require homeowners to write a check to someone each month.

  39. mildlymagnificent says

    Every rooftop install requires the installation of redundant equipment. A million rooftops means a million converters, a million battery systems or holding tanks, etc. Needless duplication.

    So insist that the first roofs to be recruited to a scheme should be of a minimum size. A warehouse, a school/ university/ church/ community hall, shopping centre and/or its carpark, sport stadium – whatever is in the area. Though in a place like California, domestic solar is really important for reducing the “peakiness” of demand. It’s certainly worked in South Australia which used to have the same peaky demand graph. Now that we have almost a quarter of homes with rooftop solar power is cheaper generally – because the suppliers aren’t competing in auctions for really high priced power at the times they used to.

    The demand is taken out of the system, along with the stress on the grid distribution system itself. We certainly no longer have the blackouts we used to on hot days. (For other similar places it’s also a counter to the argument that domestic solar FIT is expensive for other users. Because the rooftop solar reduces average wholesale prices, non-PV households are not as disadvantaged under a FIT system as some people expect.)

  40. says

    There’s so much wrong in gingerbaker’s comment — solar leasing means homeowners can get solar installed for no money upfront; grid-tied rooftop systems don’t need batteries; cheap parts mean even with labor costs, solar rooftops and other distributed installations are booming and decentralized solar just passed the 1300 megawatt mark in California in February and continues to climb while giant desert solar is only now starting to contribute a few megawatts to the grid; U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped in 2012; PV can actually be less efficient in deserts because of operating temperatures; etc. So very much wrong.

    And the wrongest thing is this:

    If we miss our ever-contracting window of opportunity, preserving desert habitat will be the least of our worries – the entire breadbasket of the U.S. will be desert in less than a century.

    That’s a statement born of sheer ignorance about what desert habitat is. Not gingerbaker’s fault per se: a lot of people think of deserts as bleak, pointless places. But upland Mojave desert shrubland is actually more biodiverse than many ecosystems in the U.S., including old-growth redwood forest. Arizona upland Sonoran Desert even more so. And in those places and others, humbles little shrubs exceeding 1,000 years in age are commonplace. It’s old growth forest writ small.

    That’s very different from the invasive-exotic-filled parking lot that the prairies will likely become with climate change. To say “desert habitat will spread” is to betray complete ecological illiteracy.

    You know we’re actually facing a bigger threat than climate change, according to quite a few scientists? Biodiversity loss driven by habitat destruction. Turn the american deserts — the last really intact ecosystems in sub-Arctic North America — into sacrifice zones to create power to meet North America’s ever-increasing demand, because we can’t be arsed to change the way we live until we’re forced to, and we make that larger problem worse.

    Of course in order to see it that way you kind of have to grant that non-human things actually exist and are worthy of continuing to do so. That’s arguably less important than bothering to see whether your pro-utility-scale solar articles of faith might be worth fact-checking. Or your closet light worth turning off when you close the door. Fuck the tortoises anyway, right? They’ve gotta take one for the team.

  41. gingerbaker says

    There’s so much wrong in gingerbaker’s comment — solar leasing means homeowners can get solar installed for no money upfront;

    As I said, homeowners themselves will be paying either upfront cash or financing the project. Solar leasing is a form of financing. No money upfront, true, but pay every month without benefit of Federal or State rebates or tax incentives, in effect paying for equipment you don’t own and paying for the leasing company profit on top of it.

    You know what would be better imo? Having the Federal government pay for everybody’s conversion to renewable solar by becoming our national energy utility. Using tax dollars to build the necessary large-scale infrastructure in time to actually save the planet, instead of hoping that somehow, magically, the miracle of the marketplace will reverse its course and get the job done in 5 to 10 years when renewable electricity – after a thirty year record of trying this approach – accounts for how much of our energy – 1% or so? 1%, yet we need 100% in a decade, by some lights.

    100% renewable is rightfully a [i]national[/i] security priority, it should be payed for by the national government, so that the sacrifice is shared by all, not just individual homeowners. We need to put this enormous project on our national credit card, not on yours or mine. And once the American tax payer has built this infrastructure, he should be sold the electricity for what solar fuel actually costs – and that is zero. Sunlight is free.

    Do you think we could sell the American public on an energy future where they would no longer have to pay a dime out-of-pocket for their transportation fuel costs, their home and business heating and cooling, etc? Do you see the potential here for rapid success for solving the AGW crisis compared to the near impossibility that rooftop solar will solve the problem in time?

    grid-tied rooftop systems don’t need batteries

    and others do, yes?

    cheap parts mean even with labor costs, solar rooftops and other distributed installations are booming and decentralized solar just passed the 1300 megawatt mark in California in February and continues to climb while giant desert solar is only now starting to contribute a few megawatts to the grid;

    I am happy that parts are getting cheaper and that solar is growing. I’m not sure I would use the word booming, though – the sad fact is that it contributes, still, after three decades of (piss-poor) promotion – a miniscule percentage of our energy needs.

    And again – the big question – is this: Can we get the job done in time using this approach? I am pretty certain that the answer is definitively not. Just to give you an idea – by my calculations ( and I am NO expert and I really fucking wish we could see just one fracking environmental energy blogger who knows far better than I about the topic, give us just one fucking post on the fact and figures on this idea of large-scale solar infrastructure) that to replace every calorie of fossil fuel energy we consume would take, erected in an area with the sunlight characteristics of the Mojave, approximately 460 billion standard PV panels.

    I think that we need to start construction today on at least 100 new PV panel factories just to fulfill that requirement on time. That would take a Presidential directive, and just is not going to happen due to market forces associated with roof top solar.

    Chris – what is your calculation? Giving rooftop solar every generous realistic consideration, when do you see it replacing fossil fuels? At a 4C+ world? At a 7C+ world?

    And yes, I agree with you that roof-top is providing more than large-scale deployment – but that is my point – we need to dramatically increase large-scale deployment because of the time constraints we have!

    U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped in 2012; PV can actually be less efficient in deserts because of operating temperatures

    I don’t think your first statement is supportable yet – CO2 perhaps, not total greenhouse gases. And world-wide emissions of CO2 alone have never been higher. PV being less efficient in desert temps I have not seen before – I’ll look into it.

    That’s a statement born of sheer ignorance about what desert habitat is. Not gingerbaker’s fault per se: a lot of people think of deserts as bleak, pointless places. But upland Mojave desert shrubland is actually more biodiverse than many ecosystems in the U.S., including old-growth redwood forest. Arizona upland Sonoran Desert even more so. And in those places and others, humbles little shrubs exceeding 1,000 years in age are commonplace

    I bow to your ecological knowledge – I did mean wasteland. Well, more proto-desert. On the other hand, CO2 levels will be in place for one to two thousand years. Would that not be enough time to allow a parking lot infested with weeds to evolve into a true desert ecosystem?

  42. says

    So this proposed site is for concentrated solar? Some of those offer advantages over photovoltaic panels, including the ability to produce mains power at night, which is a neat trick. And they do need a good-sized chunk of land.

    But here’s what I don’t understand about companies that focus on places like this wildlife-linkage site: aren’t there other spots that are already ruined? A failed shopping mall that could be torn down? A subdivision laid out by some speculator in the ’80′s that got streets but no houses? An abandoned industrial site? Surely there must be something that isn’t pristine desert ecology. Seems like they ought to be actively looking for sites like that in the first place.

  43. neutrinosarecool says

    Rooftop solar is good for individual homes, but for supplying a city like Los Angeles? No way. The population density is too high, there’s industrial demands for power as well – it is not plausible. It’s like claiming everyone can grow all their own food in backyard gardens.

    So, the power has to come from somewhere – and right now, the oil refineries and coal-fired power plants are supplying most of the energy used in the southwest for things like transportation and air conditioning and lighting, at a huge environmental cost – air pollution, water pollution, and of course driving global warming, which is certain to have a huge negative impact on regional biodiversity.

    Many environmental organizations seem to struggle with this issue – for example, the National Parks Conservation Association is opposed to coal-fired power in the southwest, for very good reasons:

    http://www.npca.org/protecting-our-parks/air-land-water/clean-air/Regional-Clean-Air-Programs/Coal-fired-Power-Plants-Threaten-Southwestern-Parks.html

    “The proposed coal-fired power plants in Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah would spew into the atmosphere tons of mercury and CO2, the main contributor to climate change. This air pollution and greenhouse gases will affect the health and visibility of our national parks including Mesa Verde, Zion, and Great Basin. Plant and animal habitat as well as cultural resource damage and visitor and park staff health are all at risk.”

    At the same time, they have raised some legitimate concerns about the siting of large solar plants in desert regions:

    http://www.npca.org/about-us/center-for-park-research/solar/solar-energy-national-parks.html

    Many of their points are valid and should be considered in any solar plan – but look, one of their goals is to block all solar development around national parks, because it ‘impacts the viewshed’ – a play on watershed impacts. This seems ludicrous. Consider the impacts on watersheds of gas fracking, coal mine pollution, etc. – and compare that to seeing an array of solar panels, not emitting anything to the environment, but generating electricity nevertheless. Yet, they say this impacts the viewshed and threatens visual resources? Try huffing some sulfur- and mercury-laden coal exhaust, for comparison.

    The bottom line is that coal power has to go if you want to stop the impacts of air & water pollution and global warming – and yes, these are severe threats to southwestern biodiversity, there are dozens of studies on that, for example, the loss of mountaintop refugia – and that means you have to build up renewable energy capacity, which will threaten the financial interests of outfits like Peabody Coal and BNSF, the country’s largest coal-hauling railroad.

    As evidenced by the fossil fuel-financed global warming denialist movement, coal companies will use every dishonest trick in the book to block solar and wind development, including using fairly specious claims about environmental impacts, economic costs, etc.

    Thus, any fair, reasonable approach has to weigh the environmental cost of rapidly developing large-scale solar with the environmental benefit of eliminating coal-fired power – and solar wins, hands down, especially in the long run.

  44. Usernames are smart says

    #58 gingerbaker – nice assertions. Too bad #1, 3 and 4 are false. In my sub, the homes were all built with the same standard panel connections and wiring. A grant paid for the entire thing, and the most expensive part was the panels themselves. Most homeowners’ power bills have been $20 or less per month (due to the power company buying the excess power).

    The current program is here: http://www.houstonsolartour.com/info-center/incentives/

    ————

    When I did my undergrad fieldwork back in the day in Rainbow Basin (35 1′ 47″N; 117 2′ 11″W), I had many, many “encounters” with Yucca Bush, and every single one drove home that this was a plant NOT to be fucked with. No matter how thick pants I was wearing, or how many layers of socks I put on, the prickers on those (&@$# things would cleave right through the cloth and easily pierce my skin.

    Walking around with one’s nose buried in a geologic map was the surest way to “shake hands with Yucca.”

    How someone could fail to tell the difference between that guy and a Joshua Tree, I could only explain if their hatred of the plant went from (my own) empty threats to active destruction. Yucca might have the last word, as it is extremely hardy. Kill one and face its babies the next time.

  45. gingerbaker says

    #58 gingerbaker – nice assertions. Too bad #1, 3 and 4 are false. In my sub, the homes were all built with

    They might not be true for you – you may have benefited from an unusual grant – but I assure you they are true for most everybody else. The most expensive part was the panels themselves? Panels have a wholesale cost of about $1 each now – they are the cheapest part of the equation for everyone else. By far and away, the most expensive part of roof top is the labor charge for installation.

    And you live in Houston -solar should do really well there. Try New England – you will find that my “assertions” have some truth to them.

  46. unclefrogy says

    so gingerbaker’s choice given his reasons are between killing all the desert and surviving or starving when the Midwest turns into a desert. Those are the only choices we have been given?
    It is nice that we have finally come to a simple world one without so many complications where there is only one way to do things instead of the one I have been living in all these years.

    uncle frogy

  47. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Therefore it would seem that using the least amount of energy to accomplish any given task is the wisest course of action. – Crudely Wrott

    So it would seem, but it turns out there’s a fly in the ointment, by the name of the Jevons paradox:

    technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.

    This is because it makes more occasions of use economically viable. The obvious way to counter it is to raise the price of the resource as efficiency is increased, so resource users are running to stay in the same place. Sounds cruel, but it’s for their own good!

  48. says

    I know that the south west deserts enjoy prolonged periods of sunshine and I know that not very many people rush madly about them but . . . why not take advantage of an already existing possibility for solar installation? Namely, the roof tops of buildings.

    Different kind of solar. The large scale arrays use methods that are.. not safe for a roof. The stuff you can get on a roof is barely efficient enough, during winter, when the air conditioning is not running nearly constantly, to offset the cost of the existing electric grid, and *maybe* result in the electric company paying you money instead of the other way around. For a large industrial building.. you are looking at maybe running the lighting from it, and some other critical, but low end stuff, while still using grid power to run everything else, including the air conditioning system.

    Basically, while I don’t know the exact numbers, you could run an entire small town (not sure how small) off a full on solar array, but panels on the roof will still, during times of high use, fail to actually cover the needs of just the house/building they sit on, never mind more than one. This could change *drastically*, with nothing more than say a 10% increase in power output, at least for homes, from the panels, but we haven’t seen, in decades, a breakthrough, which didn’t involve concentrators, or other complications, which involve aiming the panel somehow, and focusing the light directly at it, that has produced more than a few percentage points improvement, and certainly not a 10%+ leap. And, in fact, I would say that the expense of installing them on your house, without subsidies and the like, which Arizona does give, as long as you also add in other things, like a solar water heater (to offset the standard one), thermal barriers on windows, etc., anything short of a 20%+ improvement in the technology might not be any where close to enough to make it worth it for anyone that *doesn’t* have tax incentive support, and other things, to offset the installation costs, and have it pay for itself.

    My parents only decided recently to go all out with it because all the conditions for buying into it meant that the “per month” cost of paying it off was nearly identical to the cost of currently paying the electric company. If we where some place other than a desert, where the actual usage levels where far lower, during the summer months, it would have been costing them more each month to pay for it, than what they already pay. So, for most places, and people, and even states (where there are less/no credits for it)… its just not worth the cost right now, with as inefficient as the panels are.

    A full blown solar plant, on the other hand, is probably semi-useful, even in places where its less effective than in a desert, simply because the way they work produces vastly more power, per structure.

    Unfortunately, for every one of the legit cases to get pissed over, like this one, there is some percentage of the “environmentally conscious”, who would appose them any place at all, like the clowns that a fine with “small” wind systems, which kill birds, just as long as you don’t have a lot of them, but not bright enough to know that *big* ones turn slower, so don’t tend to kill birds. There are a whole huge host of problems with nuclear, as well, but.. almost no alternative that isn’t, in the short run, more destructive than the chance of the reactor failing, something that might be mitigated by using a different design, which no one wants them to research, because… well, its just all bad, or something. And, yeah, there are waste products, the biggest problem of which doesn’t seem to be shipping (the containers they use could probably survive a blast from a regular nuke, or damn close), but why the hell they think storing it where it they want to makes sense… My father’s commentary on that is, “There are whole sections of some states where the stuff lies around on the ground, it rarely if ever rains, there is no ground water, and you will glow in the dark for the rest of your short life, if you are stupid enough to walk through the area without protective suits, but we are **not** building a facility to store it there, instead of in a mine, someplace else?”

    OK, yeah, I wouldn’t want to work there, and there would be obvious issues with getting stuff in and out of the area, including a) not killing the workers, and b) not tracking radioactive materials out of the facility, but.. seriously, its impossible to solve this, at all, so we need to use a salt mine in some place where it does rain?

    Yeah, there are definitely bigger issues with it than others, but.. my point is that stupidity abounds in the energy industry, and no one, including, as became obvious with the BP disaster, the energy companies, seem to be willing to spend the money to solve any of it, instead of just sucking what ever technology, how ever inefficient it now is, dry first.

  49. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped in 2012 – Chris Clarke

    Yeah, if you just look at the headline figure. But that’s due to switches from coal to newly-cheap fracked natural gas – IOW, to the use of hydrocarbons previously considered too expensive to recover, now cheap as a result of technical change. The coal displaced is likely being burned elsewhere; if it isn’t now, may well be later – and we know that the main determinant of how much anthropogenic global warming we will get is the total amount of GHGs emitted – so any technology that increases the amount of recoverable fossil fuels is bad news.

  50. says

    Why all these comments that assert what can’t be done, when they never have any links or supporting evidence.

    The photovoltaics that are used in concentrated solar installations are the same ones you could put on a roof. There’s no difference. Cells are cells.

    Cities do exist in places in the SW that are as bright and larger than these ‘concentrated’ installations. Why would the city suddenly be too small?

    Why must homeowners pay for the solar on their roofs? That’s like saying the turtles have to pay to have solar on their roofs. It makes literally as much sense.

  51. Ichthyic says

    The photovoltaics that are used in concentrated solar installations are the same ones you could put on a roof. There’s no difference. Cells are cells.

    just to be clear, you understand that many of the current and proposed solar installations in SoCal are actually solar-reflective steam generators, yes?

  52. Ichthyic says

    Can we get the job done in time using this approach?

    in time for what?

    to reduce emissions to reverse global warming in the next 20 years?

    of course not.

    to continue to reduce emissions for the future?

    of course it does.

    I find both your lack of foresight, your failure to see this is a long-term game, and your inevitable nay-saying against anything that shows factual positive developments in alternative energy sourcing to be problematic at best.

    you should speak less on these issues, seriously.

  53. texasaggie says

    This morning I read an article that pertains to this. Three dairy farms and a pecan/pistachio farm in CA have put in huge roughly 4 acre arrays of solar panels and since the land was already cultivated, there is no problem with screwing up the habitat more than it already was. The three dairy farms have found that it was an excellent source of cash flow because in CA the utilities were obligated to buy the excess electricity at a given amount that has fallen tremendously in recent years. Each one is producing just under 900 kilowatts.

    Since there is a lot of CA land that is about to be taken out of agriculture because of lack of cheap water (same thing applies to TX), it would seem that there are more reasonable locations for this kind of thing. Heck, even Death Valley would be a better site because it has much less tall vegetation. The only problem would be keeping the panels clean, something that needs to be done about every two to four weeks depending on conditions. Washing them requires water and that is at a premium in desert conditions.

  54. says

    I have to respond to the notion of throwing whole ecosystems (here arid regions) under the bus in the name of progress.

    I’d say there is some thing broken with our thinking that allows for this expedience to take hold. For one, the relationship between society and environment is being to often mediated by a “Ricardian” notion of the value of such land. In the simplest terms, rather than appreciating it as being of direct consequence to our wellbeing, such lands are interpretted rather in terms of their immediate economic value. The terms “prime” and “marginal” spring to mind. Arid regions are from an economic perspective, marginal and of low value. We tend to look at it in these terms rather than appreciating that there is a direct link: social environmental. Perhaps it is time rather to reconsider where our values lie rather than valuing a lie, ie: that economic considerations shall needs overide the social/environmental symbiosis.

    Capitalism will always be trying to expand its borders and encroach either into the social realm (we see too well with the rethuglicans where this leads) or into the environment,which sadly, as Chris points out, has been given too little of a voice.

    We have seen this all before. Fobbing off economic issues, such as the hunger greed for cheap land causes encroachment onto environmentally critical, yet economically “marginal” land. Look what has happened around the world with wetland areas. Encroachment has led, in short order, to environmental degradation and flooding – which in itself has had severe economic and social impacts.

    It really is time to face the truth, that there is no cheap solution. Ever expanding our problems, rather than containing them, is not helping. Constraining our activities can be done, it has been done and it works.

  55. says

    @ Nick Gotts

    This is because it makes more occasions of use economically viable. The obvious way to counter it is to raise the price of the resource as efficiency is increased, so resource users are running to stay in the same place. Sounds cruel, but it’s for their own good!

    The solution to the land problems raised in this thread can be regarded in this selfsame manner. Get people to make do with what they have. Endlessly granting the use of cheap land will give rise to ever more environmental degredation. We just have to learn to stay in the same place. One need only look at the sprawl of the urban environments of countries like America and South Africa (Cape Town is like a mini-LA) and then contrast this with highly restrictive urban expansion in places like The Netherlands and Hong Kong. Intensification leads to vast increases in the quality of the built environment, IMHO.

  56. bradleybetts says

    There were tons of burrows and tons of scat, rabbit and coyote and possible bobcat.

    He’s a poet and he didn’t know it!

    … I’ll get my coat.

  57. broboxley OT says

    I can appreciate the environmental concern over the loss of the Mojave biome. But… according to many climate experts, we have only 5 to 10 years to bring our CO2 emissions to zero, or there will most likely be no way to avoid a world 4C degrees warmer than baseline. A 4C+ world is the end of civilization as we know it. Literally. We must act quickly, and there will be hard pills to swallow..

    5 to 10 years to zero? really or a world 4C+ is the end of civilization?
    Willing to destroy the wild places to save civilization as we know it is not a worthy cause. C02 to zero in 5 to 10 years will also destroy our civilization as we know it while still leaving way too much c02 in the atmosphere. No thank you, we need workable sane solutions

  58. says

    just to be clear, you understand that many of the current and proposed solar installations in SoCal are actually solar-reflective steam generators, yes?

    Its fairly obvious from their comment that they have no clue that the systems used to mass produce such power are not the same as the panels on your house. I would also love to know where they figure the money is going to come from to panel every home/business in the country, the defense budget that congress refuses to cut?

    No, right now, the technology, **if** enough tax credits are allowed for it, is just barely affordable, for the amount of power it produces. Its not yet even close to enough to be cheaper, with or without those, and then, its only barely affordable *if* you take a whole mess of other steps, to reduce power usage, and that is in the Arizona desert. In some place where there is less sun year round…

    We need money put into less oil wells, and other useless crap, and more into improving the solar technology and panels *period*. Panels, which, BTW, do not include an “upgrade” clause, to get you the better designs that might come out, down the road. So, you are stuck with paying off the ones you already have, even if a major improvement comes down the pipe.

    Its not about it not being “viable”, its that its simply costly, and that cost has to be offset somehow, like say.. with all the damn subsidy money the government is still shoveling into the pockets of big oil.

    As I have said, my parents decided to do this, so I have seen the bloody math involved, including what the government is *willing* at the moment to chip in, to get it done.