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Mar 25 2013

Gizmodo fails again

There’s a whole lot wrong with this Gizmodo piece on the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System. In fact, the fuckup per sentence ratio is higher than in any piece I’ve seen this month outside of Mercola.com. The Solar Energy Zone “Initiative” wasn’t “signed into law” by Obama — it was a record of decision issued by the Interior Department on an agency program as the culmination of an environmental assessment, rather than a bill passed by Congress and sent to the President’s desk. (Which means Obama didn’t sign it and it’s not a law.) Palen will very likely not start construction this year: the California Energy Commission is casting a sober eye at contractor BrightSource’s technology on its proposed Hidden Hills project, which is much closer to approval. The towers at Hidden Hills will be just as tall as those at Palen, if either plant ever gets built, and Hidden Hills will likely go up first, meaning that the Gizmodo headline is wrong.

Like I said: many, many errors. But this one’s the worst, and it’s the very first paragraph:

The US government holds vast tracts of public lands—more than a 654 million acres, in fact—for public use such as national parks as well as for military use like test ranges and proving grounds. But most of the time, much of that land is left to rot when it could be producing clean solar energy for our ever-increasing power needs.

“Left to rot.”

By way of comparison

“Left to rot.”

ashford

“Left to rot.”

marching

What is it with some of these tech writers? Any landscape that doesn’t look like fucking Trantor is useless to them, sounds like.

43 comments

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  1. 1
    erikthebassist

    Oh FFS. Camp Pendleton, apart from the areas that have been bombed to hell which isn’t very much, is one of the most pristine undisturbed pieces of land on the California coast. Most of the people that live in San Diego county have no idea what the landscape they live on if it weren’t irrigated the way it is.

    Meanwhile you have coyote, mountain lion, goats and all kinds of other native species of plant and animal that goes bye bye for good with out preservation efforts.

  2. 2
    Rob

    Some people just don’t appreciate nature for what it is – necessary for the life blood of everything on this rock.

  3. 3
    erikthebassist

    ermm, meant “what the landscape they live on would be like”

  4. 4
    erikthebassist

    So Chris does that make you sour on solar power then? Or are there ways to do it that don’t have the environmental impact?

  5. 5
    Rey Fox

    Left to rot.

  6. 6
    Rey Fox

    This doesn’t directly relate to the land, but look at those blue skies!

    *sigh*

  7. 7
    NitricAcid

    A decade or two ago, I attended a university that had an experimental farm, on land that had been given to the university eighty or so years ago. When it was given, the university almost turned it down, because it was “so far out of town and away from the campus”; when I was attending, it was well within city limits. Rednecks would frequently comment on the waste of good land- it was “just sitting there, not being used for anything”. Since obviously, twenty-year experiments on how certain crops affect the soil over long time periods could just be rolled up and moved into smaller offices easily enough, and land’s not being really used unless it’s got an office tower or parking lot on it.

  8. 8
    noastronomer

    1. Land can rot?!?
    2. We should probably plough Yosemite under then. You know, before it starts smelling.

    Mike.

  9. 9
    rturpin

    One of the nice things about south Texas is all that rotting land. ;-)

  10. 10
    iknklast

    That’s as bad as they do with water (my specialty). If a river actually flows to the sea, they refer to it as “wasted”. Unless it’s flushed down someone’s toilet or splashed on someone’s lawn, it’s “wasted”. Because animals and plants using it are a waste, right? Because using it to cycle nutrients and provide weather are wasted, right? But put it behind a dam, let it evaporate in the desert air from Lake Powell, and we’ve not “wasted” it, because we’ll turn the reservoir to human uses.

  11. 11
    ChasCPeterson

    rot, baby, rot.

    Solar Done RIght dot org

  12. 12
    chigau (違う)

    “left to rot”
    I see bad things in the future of everything above the tree-line.
    tundra
    Are there no parking lots?
    Are there no megamall roofs?

  13. 13
    Rike

    I don’t know about wind turbines, but solar should be so easy: we go to Las Vegas once or twice a month, and at one place we pass a parking lot that is covered with solar panels; 2 birds with one stone: electricity from solar power and shade for the cars parked under the panels. I don’t see why every parking lot and every house roof are not covered with solar panels! They don’t have to go up in the desert at all!

  14. 14
    Chris Clarke

    erikthebassist @4, there’s plenty of ways to do solar that work just great. I’m a big fan of solar. The problem is putting it in huge clumps on public lands because you don’t have to fork over money for externalities, like the habitat value of the land you’re building on, or the hit to tourist revenue from communities like the one I live in because people don’t want to spend their vacation in a factory, or the multi-billion dollar transmission lines that get charged to the ratepayers.

    Smaller-scale, distributed and localized, rooftop and industrial-scale solar? I love it. It’s as close to our only hope as we have.

  15. 15
    chigau (違う)

    Rike
    For some reason People™ like pipelines.
    Produce the power in a central location and “pipe” to the users.
    NO WAY should the users be anything but customers.

  16. 16
    magistramarla

    I live in Ft. Ord, in Monterey County. The huge area where the army used to practice with live ordnance is now wild, and is inhabited by lots of wildlife. I can sit in my living room and watch many wild things, like wild turkeys, coyotes and hawks outside of my patio door.
    People here are fighting to “keep Ft. Ord wild”, while others are proposing building a variety of tourist attractions, ranging from a resort to a racetrack.

  17. 17
    jufulu

    “Left to rot.”

    Now I’m pissed off. I grew up in AZ and used to backpack in the desert. It’s amazing, beautiful, deserves respect and is very fragile. Some of my best photography is of the desert south of Prescott.

    I have developed a hatred of the concept that land only exists to plunder and this is from a person that made his living in public works construction. You used to have to travel a ways to get to the Superstition Mountains and now housing tracts and the freeway are just about nestled up against them.
    I just don’t understand why people want to build condensed solar structures ( solar energy was one of my passions while working for my engineering degree) when solar is prefect for diffuse collection practices. My working hypothesis is that the the energy companies won’t have complete control of the processes.

    Now I’m depressed too.

  18. 18
    SallyStrange

    Colonialism lives on.

  19. 19
    Trickster Goddess

    Not that there is wrong with rotting.

    This is the same kind of language I remember hearing in a logging industry propaganda video in the 90′s. They claimed that dead trees rotting on the ground was unhealthy for aforest.

  20. 20
    unclefrogy

    of course land rots it erodes away the things on die and rot and are washed or blown away until even the mountains are washed to the sea so what this ain’t news it is how it works. the other thought which fits in the same line of “reasoning” is purpose the fucking purpose of nature and the things in nature everything must have a purpose as judged by some grand accountant I guess
    such a fucking self centered way to look at existence.
    uncle frogy

  21. 21
    bad Jim

    I’m in Laguna Beach, just north of Camp Pendleton. Satellite photos show these two areas as conspicuous smudges of the general pattern of development. Coastal scrub doesn’t sound like something worth preserving, does it? I like to call it chaparral, but it’s still the same low, dry growth.

    It’s not immediately lovable. It doesn’t have the majesty of tall trees. It’s not soft and gentle and welcoming, it’s hard and prickly and withdrawn. It’s easy to see why developers reflexively wish to remold it nearer to their heart’s desire, and difficult to understand why so many of us who live here wind up wanting to keep it the way it is.

    The smell is distinct. Like the views, like the neighbors, it’s an acquired taste, and as such eventually it becomes impossible to imagine anything less. You come to expect the wildlife. Raccoons playing ball in the yard, rarely rabbits or skunks, opossums in the bird feeder, rats in the attic, swallows in the eaves, deer trimming the roses and the agapanthus, jays and crows criticizing your every move, ravenous and vicious hummingbirds and orioles, comical doves, finches and sparrows, gnatcatchers and mockingbirds, ominous owls – and that’s just what I find in my back yard.

    It doesn’t take long to get hooked on scrub.

  22. 22
    Alex

    “Meanwhile you have coyote, mountain lion, goats and all kinds of other native species of plant and animal”

    Oh great! Not only is it rotting, there’s also baby killing vermin on it!

  23. 23
    octopod

    My working hypothesis is that people who write things like that have only interacted with natural environments via simulations in video games, where forest is often the default “good” biome and desert the “evil” one.

  24. 24
    spamamander, internet amphibian

    I guess perhaps I am biased, since much of eastern Washington is “arid steppe”, but every one of those photos to me was breathtakingly beautiful. Certainly more interesting than much of my native sage. I still get awed by the basalt scablands up here and the volcanic and glacial history written in the stone, taken over by plants and wildlife so specially adapted to the harsh climate.

    … and yet everyone insists on pristine green lawns and lush non-native trees. In an area that gets 8-11 inches of rain a year.

  25. 25
    gingerbaker

    Chris Clarke:

    “I’m a big fan of solar. The problem is putting it in huge clumps on public lands because you don’t have to fork over money for externalities, like the habitat value of the land you’re building on, or the hit to tourist revenue from communities like the one I live in because people don’t want to spend their vacation in a factory, or the multi-billion dollar transmission lines that get charged to the ratepayers.

    Smaller-scale, distributed and localized, rooftop and industrial-scale solar? I love it. It’s as close to our only hope as we have.”

    A couple of weeks ago you stated that in your opinion that there were very large tracts of government land in the American Southwest that would be perfectly fine to locate large-scale solar projects, as opposed to the unacceptability of locating these projects in the Mojave.

    Now, it seems there is no public government land that large-scale solar would be acceptable to you? You also seem to have a pretty big objection to “multi-billion dollar transmission lines that get charged to the ratepayers” that may well be associated with large-scale projects, but you are all for localized, rooftop solar.

    Localized roof-top solar is the most expensive way to build solar, far more than large-scale. Do you have any idea how much more expensive? It also doesn’t just get “charged to the ratepayer”. It, in most cases, rooftop solar is a capital expense borne directly by the homeowner. Which, of course, is worse.

    And this is pretty much why rooftop solar has been an enormous failure in the U.S. Less than one per cent of our electrical generation comes from solar. But it and wind are our only viable future. And if we continue to sit around with out thumbs up our ass and wait for roof top solar to somehow – magically – become a significant source of clean power, you know what is going to happen? We are going to run out of time. And we will lose our civilization. And then, ironically enough, we will be up to our necks in desertification, as the breadbaskets of the world become six times dryer than the Oklahoma Dustbowl.

    What a great world for you, Chris! Deserts forming everywhere, and none of those hideous “billion-dollar transmission lines” that are such an eyesore.

    The cool thing about this Palen Solar Electric Generating System is that it sounds like a Federal solar project. Precious few of those. Which means that that there is no real reason that the costs need to be “charged to the ratepayers”. The costs for such a project could, and should be I argue, be borne by all of us taxpayers, not just ratepayers. As any nationally-funded public sector good-for-the-Commons project should be.

    I’m not sure if you realize it, Chris, but it is almost too late to fix climate change. Our window of opportunity is shrinking and is very small. We may have as little as 5 to 10 years, perhaps as many as 20 to accomplish a conversion to 100% renewables. Accomplish – not get started. It is officially time to panic.

    We need to be on a wartime basis to accomplish this, our greatest national challenge. And large-scale Federal solar and wind projects are going to have to play a huge part in that. For the simple reason that they are the least expensive and most expeditious way to deploy huge amounts of non carbon power. By far.

    How ironic it is environmentalists like you who may fight our best chance to survive the future.

  26. 26
    Chris Clarke

    Gingerbaker, Duane Gish called. He wants his gallop back.

  27. 27
    woodsong

    Argh. This calls to mind for me similar memories as Trickster Goddess describes–a logging company representative in an interview speaking of the northwest old-growth forest as wood going to waste, with an offhand shrug as if to say “Isn’t it obvious that our profits are more important than those silly little owls the ecofreaks are busy nattering about?”

    I hate having to admit that yes, these people are the same species as me.

    I’m going to take a few minutes to enjoy that gallery of nurse logs.

  28. 28
    Worldtraveller

    I think a big reason there’s a major failure of widespread, small scale solar, is that there isn’t much money in it for the now privatized utilities. Once your home is hooked up to a few kw wind generator, a few square meters of solar, and maybe even a battery backup, there’s not much need for utility companies. They can make their money by switching to a leasing scheme, which is the best idea, IMO, as it allows for regular maintenance, and would probably do a better job of keep the overall system near optimum efficiency. Plus, they could use the existing infrastructure to pipe extra electricity back to large centralized, high capacitance areas so homeowners wouldn’t need to worry about potential hazards of various battery chemicals.

  29. 29
    Numenaster

    Echoing Trickster Goddess and woodsong:

    I worked for the Forest Service during the “War in the Woods”, aka the 1990′s, the era of the spotted owl decision. The bizarro term I heard from timber companies (and some folks in the agency who thought the forest consisted of nothing but the trees) was “over-mature”. As in, “all that value is locked up in over-mature forest”. And by implication, it was all being squandered.

    Everyone else called it old growth. As in, the most biodiverse forest type in the continental US. As in, the forest type that provided the greatest level of ecosystem services (water filtration, soil conservation, air quality, habitat, hunting, fishing, scenic value, etc). Over-mature, my ass.

  30. 30
    cyberax

    If I had to choose between destroying this and a coal powerplant – then it’d be ‘bye-bye cactus’ time in a second.

  31. 31
    gingerbaker

    Gingerbaker, Duane Gish called. He wants his gallop back.

    Wow. Overwhelmed by your grasp of the topic and rhetorical skills. Pathetic.

  32. 32
    myeck waters

    You should be overwhelmed. In one sentence he accurately described and dealt with your huge wall of trollage.

  33. 33
    Chris Clarke

    Wow. Overwhelmed by your grasp of the topic and rhetorical skills. Pathetic.

    gingerbaker, with the exception of your remarks specifically about the urgency of climate change, your entire comment is wrong. You’re wrong about rooftop solar being a “failure” in the U.S. You’re wrong about Palen being a “Federal project.” You’re wrong about which way the subsidies work, you’re wrong about “deserts” spreading. You’re wrong about large-scale solar being the least expensive way to ramp up solar generation, and you’re wrong about solar and wind being our “only” renewable choice.

    I report on renewable energy every single day for Los Angeles’s public television station KCET. My work is here. I read the trade press, the tech press, corporate and non-profit press releases each with their own spin, transcripts of hearings of the California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission, and papers on electronic engineering research. I spend all day at this every day.

    And so when someone whose pallid misunderstandings that were maybe marginally accurate eight years ago stomps into a comment thread and whines that I need to correct his bad-faith trolling, I have that handy link above to which I can refer them.

    In other words, stop whining that I should do your fucking homework for you: I already have. If you really want to have a conversation like a grownup you’ll go spend a few weeks bringing yourself up to speed on the topic. Because right now you’re stuck in 1988 with California’s governor. Except even he recognizes that we’ve installed more rooftop solar capacity in the last five years than we have utility-scale remote public lands solar.

    If you’re not willing to make that good faith attempt, then, well, I don’t need you here. I don’t mind explaining things to people who ask me to. I refuse to engage with whiny little entitled shits.

  34. 34
    Chris Clarke

    If I had to choose between destroying this and a coal powerplant – then it’d be ‘bye-bye cactus’ time in a second.

    Good thing only the completely ignorant think those are the only two choices.

  35. 35
    Chris Clarke

    I refuse to engage with whiny little entitled shits.

    Whiny little entitled shits, I should add, that think destroying thousands of square miles of an ecosystem is the better choice because asking property owners to fucking take responsibility for the energy they consume is uuunfaiiiir, and changing federal incentive policy is too haaaarrrd.

  36. 36
    skaduskitai

    Why not do as they have done in Germany? They have solar cells alongside the highways. There’s even plans on making roads themselves create solar power. Why destroy virgin land when there’s plenty of wasted land like rooftops, abandoned industries e.t.c. that can be exploited, with the benefit of being far closer to where it’s used and less wasted energy (electricity is wasted when it’s transported over long distances).

  37. 37
    Crissa

    Yeah, when I was a kid, I drew roads with solar panels over them. Because where I lived it rained and stormed a large portion of the year, and we had to deal with the run-off and cuts in the forest for the paving anyhow, so why not just cover it up with some nice dappled shade and produce some energy at the same time?

    Make the units individual, so any vehicle coming off only breaks a bank or so from the system, use the profits from the power generated to pay for underground trunks of the utilities so they don’t cut through the sky or get hit by cars. If we’re going to cut through the groundcover anyhow, after all…

  38. 38
    chigau (違う)

    Chris
    gingerbaker is best ignored.
    Not a troll, really, just not worth it.
    —-
    but then there’s this
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/01/20/relief-for-the-heartsick/comment-page-1/#comment-540371

  39. 39
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Chris, what of your work (or other sites) would you suggest for someone trying to get up to speed on the current state of solar technology possibilities?

  40. 40
    Chris Clarke

    Chris, what of your work (or other sites) would you suggest for someone trying to get up to speed on the current state of solar technology possibilities?

    Lemme think on that for a minute: long day and I’m two beers in. (Nudge me if I don’t answer by Thursday. ADD and all.)

  41. 41
    rr

    fastlane:

    potential hazards of various battery chemicals

    Large nickel-metal hydride batteries would be great for home and small business use, much safer than lead-acid or lithium ion types. Unfortunately some oil companies are holding patents on the manufacture of large NiMH batteries

    Patent encumbrance of large automotive NiMH batteries

    in most cases, rooftop solar is a capital expense borne directly by the homeowner.

    That’s why we need tax incentives for homeowners to install them. Also add small wind turbines (squirrel cage type) to the mix. Put some refrigerator-size waterproof NiMH batteries in the basement, keep them charged with solar and wind, and a building could be energy self-sufficient. Keep a connection to the grid if you need to, the grid would still be necessary for larger electricity customers.

  42. 42
    Rewarp

    “Left to rot.”

    I can’t believe how much these three words anger me.

  43. 43
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I suppose an unmined peat bog could reasonably be described as “left to rot.” Don’t think there are many of those in the desert.

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