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Solar Is Now King - Hypocrisy In America


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Talk about hypocrisy....

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Federal officials, solar companies and environmental groups argue that the urgency brought on by climate change has forced difficult trade-offs."

Mojave solar-power project sacrifices the desert for the Earth

Industrial-scale solar development is well under way in California's Mojave Desert, where more than 3,500 acres of public land are being covered with BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar-power project. In the fight against climate change, the Mojave is about to take one for the team

IVANPAH VALLEY, Calif. — Construction cranes rise like storks 40 stories above the Mojave Desert. In their midst, the "power tower" emerges, wrapped in scaffolding and looking like a multistage rocket.

Clustered nearby are hangar-size assembly buildings, looming berms of sand and a chain mail of fencing that will enclose more than 3,500 public acres. Moorings for 173,500 mirrors — each the size of a garage door — are spiked into the desert floor. Before the end of the year, they will become six square miles of gleaming reflectors, sweeping from Interstate 15 to the Clark Mountains along California's eastern border.

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar-power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater-processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move some experts say could kill up to one-third of the reptiles.

Despite its behemoth footprint, the Ivanpah project has slipped easily into place, unencumbered by lasting legal opposition or public outcry from California's environmental community.

The public got its chance to comment at scores of open houses, but the real political horse trading took place in meetings involving solar developers, federal regulators and leaders of some of the nation's top environmental organizations.

Away from public scrutiny, they crafted a united front in favor of utility-scale solar development, often making difficult compromises.

"I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection," said Johanna Wald, a veteran environmental attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It's not an accommodation; it's a change I had to make to respond to climate."

That unusual collaboration — along with generous federal subsidies and allotments of public land — has sparked a wholesale remodeling of the American desert.

Industrial-scale solar development is well under way in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The federal government has furnished more public property to this cause than it has for oil and gas exploration in the past decade: 21 million acres, more than the area of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties put together.

If only a few of the proposed projects are built, hundreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear. Several thousand miles of power-transmission corridors will be created.

The desert will be scarred, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.

"The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal," said Dennis Schramm, former superintendent at neighboring Mojave National Preserve. "The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted."

In the fight against climate change, the Mojave Desert is about to take one for the team.

Not cheap energy

For decades, America's Western deserts have been dusty storehouses for government scrap, a lode for minerals, a staging ground for tanks and military maneuvers.

But the thrum of industry is afoot, bringing Space Age technology and a sense of urgency.

The BrightSource solar plant stands as an exclamation point in the desert.

The $2 billion plant is an amalgam of gadgetry designed to wring the maximum energy from the sun. Computers continually focus the field of mirrors to a center tower filled with water, which will heat to more than 1,000 degrees. The resulting steam drives an array of turbines capable of generating 370 megawatts, enough to power roughly 140,000 homes during peak hours.

Capturing a free and clean source of energy is not cheap. Solar is the Cadillac of energy, with capital costs and other market factors making it three times more expensive than natural gas or coal.

Ratepayers' bills will be up to 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the state Public Utilities Commission.

What has opened the way for such a costly source of energy is the dramatic turn in federal policy. As early as 2005, the Bush administration established generous programs to reward renewable-energy developers. The Obama administration sweetened the pot, offering $45 billion in federal tax credits, guaranteed loans and grants.

On the state level, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger freed large solar plants from property taxes and handed out $90 million in exemptions from sales and use taxes. Under Gov. Jerry Brown, the state invested more than $70 million in clean-energy research last year, paid for by a ratepayer surcharge.

The money has sparked a land rush echoing the speculative booms in mining, railroad construction and oil and gas on Western federal land.

One of the first firms out of the gate was Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, which received $1.6 billion in federally guaranteed loans in addition to hundreds of millions in private investment.

By taking advantage of the available government subsidies, shrewd solar developers can get taxpayers to cover close to 80 percent of a multibillion-dollar project. The rest comes from investors, attracted by what amounts to a tax shelter.

Federal and state officials have used job creation to partly justify their subsidy of solar companies. During the two to three years of a solar plant's construction, most new jobs will go to union tradesmen. But after a plant is built, employment opportunities are limited.

BrightSource's Ivanpah facility is expected to employ 1,000 workers at the height of construction, but that will shrink to 86 full-time maintenance and facility workers once it is up and running.

"What troubles me is that the public has bought the whole solar expansion hook, line and sinker because it's 'renewable,' " Schramm said. "The public would be up in arms if someone was building Disneyland next to a national park."

The environmental cost

Larry LaPre, the Bureau of Land Management's wildlife biologist for much of the Mojave, said some aspects of the project have been carefully considered and painstakingly done. Other approaches, however, are "complete nonsense," among them BrightSource's experimental approach of shearing the tops of desert plants so they fit under elevated solar mirrors. The company calls it "gentle mowing."

"To get another barrel cactus, even a small one, takes 100 years," he said, driving around the Ivanpah construction site. LaPre peered through the windshield and ticked off what living things might be left after the developers finish.

"The birds are already gone. They're outta there," he said. The site "will have plants, short plants, and it will have mice and kangaroo rats and some lizards. That's it. Maybe some more common birds. The insects are an unknown, because you could have massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors."

Mainstream environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have been largely mute, having traded the picket line for a seat at the table when development plans were drawn.

The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the nation's most aggressively litigious environmental groups, has not challenged the Ivanpah project. It signed a confidential agreement not to oppose the project in exchange for concessions for the desert tortoise, mandating that BrightSource buy land elsewhere for conservation.

Some 24 environmental groups signed statements largely supporting the aims of solar developers.

Federal officials, solar companies and environmental groups argue that the urgency brought on by climate change has forced difficult trade-offs.

"We did the best we could," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

From. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2017591314_desertsolar26.html

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Yes folks, the environmentalists cite "the urgency of climate change".

Hello? Climate change is natural and unending. They are betting the farm on a "theory".

What about the "fact" that environmental laws have driven millions of manufacturing jobs overseas?

What about the "fact" that environmentalists are preventing us from mining our own minerals?

What about the "fact" that environmentalists are preventing us from harvesting our timber?

What about the "fact" that environmentalists are preventing us from drilling for our own oil?

What about the "fact" that the cost of electricity from these projects is SUBSTANTIALLY higher?

Don't get me wrong folks. I'm all for solar power. I'm all for an energy independent America.

The environmentalists have done an about face here. Let's keep the ball rolling and get America back to work.

The urgency of our economic situation demands it.

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"What troubles me is that the public has bought the whole solar expansion hook, line and sinker because it's 'renewable,' " Schramm said. "The public would be up in arms if someone was building Disneyland next to a national park."

The "public" didn't "buy" the solar idea AT ALL. Just like Obummercare it was forced down our throats. The enviros "bought" it so as to avoid really big problems with Da Gubmint. Uncle Sam will placate these folks as long as it suits their socialist agenda BUT when it gets in the way they will "convince" the enviros that they should "just go along" in order to survive. It's strange how the most foolish lawsuits are allowed to proceed when aimed at miners and such. BUT when Uncle Sam wants and REALLY needs something a complete and utter devastation of pristine public lands seems to slip through WITH the blessings of these very same "protectors" of the enviornment. It seems that a "real" opponent seems to make them quickly reassess their position on what they "believe". Very much like the Vichy government when the Nazis invaded France. With this very act the enviros have lost every bit of creditability they EVER strived to acquire.

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I'll play devil's advocate( look at my pic to the left).

If there were no subsidies, and the gov't wasn't picking "winners"( wouldn't that be nice), would this project be so bad- if it's driver was the free market and private enterprise?

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There are subsidies for farming, generating power, providing transportation, railroads, airlines, auto manufacturers, you name it. Government hosts all sorts of industry both physically and financially. Like it or not our government is in the business of manipulating business.

Solar is great and so is wind. The only possible rub is that there may be a few particles of gold in the gravel for an individual to get for himself and those individuals want to hold up an entire industry because of it. No, you cant mine under a turbine tower but you can weep about your personal loss just outside the fence while 20 working men make a living.

I dont see it as being any different than the enviros taking the wind out of the oil patch. Everyone needs to have a say in how our lands are used but when that opinion becomes obstructionist everyone suffers. If there is a place for oilfields, open pit mines, and nuclear waste dumps there is a place for solar and wind (and any other) technoloogy to grow.

That is our birthright as Americans to be able to harness our vast natural resources on our public lands. Not just SOME of the resources. And not just the resources we commonly see as valuable as "miners"..ALL of the natural resources available on the land.

Public land is supposed to be PUBLIC and the resources to help the people. If it will mine at a profit then get a plan together and mine it. If it will grow calves, do it. If you can harvest stone or cut wood, get a piece of it! If you can generate power, trap lighting, recirculate steam, or store dirty blood bags in salt tunnels DO IT.

Just my two cents.

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  • 1 month later...

Well, the Indians have hit the nail on the head with this. Read on...

Discovery of Indian artifacts complicates Genesis solar project

PARKER, ARIZ. -- The Feb. 27 letter from the chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes was pleading and tough. It asked President Barack Obama to slow the federal government's "frantic pursuit" of massive solar energy projects in the Mojave Desert because of possible damage to Native American cultural resources.

The Obama administration didn't respond. But four days after Chairman Eldred Enas sent the letter, the Indians say they found an answer, delivered by spirits of the desert.

Howling winds uncovered a human tooth and a handful of burned bone fragments the size of quarters on a sand dune in the shadow of new solar power transmission towers. Indians say the discovery is evidence of a Native American cremation site not detected in Southern California Edison's archaeological survey before the towers were built.

The Indians reburied the remains a few hundred feet away. But while digging the grave April 3, they hit more ancestral bones.

It was the last straw, the third discovery of artifacts at or in the vicinity of the $1 billion Genesis solar project 200 miles east of Los Angeles. All had been missed by archaeological surveys conducted in a rush to build.

"Mother Nature decided to show them what they missed in those surveys and said, 'Stop,' " said Sylvia "Cindy" Homer, vice chairwoman of the Colorado tribes.

Now the tribes, joined by others in the desert, are not merely asking the Obama administration to go slow because of potential harm. They are demanding it. Backed by the legally powerful Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Indians say Genesis and the transmission line corridor are proof of damage to sacred lands. They are readying court challenges that could alter solar and wind energy projects across the desert.

"We're at a flash point over a general unwillingness to listen to and respect the tribal perspective and advice," said David Singleton, a program analyst with the California Native American Heritage Commission. "These are important public policy questions involving gigantic power plants sprouting up in rural areas that had gone undisturbed for thousands of years."

Genesis is one of 27 solar plants in the West that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has identified as a priority, giving them a faster track to state and federal approval. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said the government is "on steroids" in its support for renewable energy.

But unless the developers and federal and state governments yield to the Native American concerns, they are headed for a showdown of complicated and competing values. It would come down to a single question: Does the cultural importance of long-buried Native American remains outweigh the need to rapidly build solar and wind energy projects to meet the enormous threat of global climate change?

In stark terms, should a project like Genesis be scuttled by what an executive for its owner called "a diffuse scatter of artifacts?"

The colliding interests are not new. They have been present for decades along the California coast, where most Native American village sites were destroyed by urbanization, said Jon Erlandson, director of the University of Oregon Museum of Cultural and Natural History and an archaeologist deeply knowledgeable about development in California Indian country.

"The relatively undeveloped deserts are next in line," Erlandson said. "But out there, fast-track processes that do not involve a lot of thorough research before building something are setting the stage for future conflicts and potential disasters."

Given the strength of the federal law protecting cultural artifacts, developers find that often it is less expensive "to slow down, consult with tribes and place projects in areas where they do the least amount of damage possible," he said.

Although a handful of solar projects are under construction in the desert, Genesis has emerged as a case study for Native Americans. As a federally recognized tribal group with sovereignty over a 264,000-acre reservation, the Colorado tribes were offended that the BLM approved Genesis before holding "nation-to-nation" consultations with them.

Before construction began, archaeologists had warned that the site near Ford Dry Lake was rich with Native American history. Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources redesigned the project to avoid land most likely to hold artifacts, then followed a less-than-exhaustive method, approved by state regulators, for surveying the new site for remains.

During construction last November, workers uncovered a pair of grinding stones and what appeared to be a layer of charcoal. The Colorado tribes say they are evidence of a sacred cremation site. Genesis claims they are insignificant artifacts. But work has been halted on more than 125 acres since their discovery.

The human remains found months later were some seven miles from Genesis, near new transmission towers erected to carrypower from the project.

The tribes now want large areas surrounding the cremation sites deemed off-limits, even if that means redesigning Genesis and rerouting Southern California Edison's transmission line corridor.

NextEra warns that yielding to the tribes' demands could result in costly delays that jeopardize completion of the 250-megawatt plant, which is being built on BLM land with the help of an $825 million loan guaranteed by federal taxpayers.

Michael O'Sullivan, NextEra's senior vice president of development, acknowledged in a recent letter to the BLM that the economic damage could be "so severe that, had they been known at the time the investment was approved, Genesis would not have moved forward with the project."

California Public Utilities Commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the human remains found March 2 and April 3 were outside of Edison's Devers-Palo Verde 2 Transmission Line Project boundary lines. As a result, Prosper said, "no rerouting is necessary."

Indians say that argument misses the point.

Linda Otero, a leader of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, which is working with the Colorado tribes, said the utility is wrong to dismiss the remains because they were a few hundred feet outside the transmission line boundaries.

"The tribe looks at them as inseparable from the whole, which includes a living spiritual world that extends beyond those boundaries," Otero said. "In our way, they have disrupted the peace of our ancestors and our relationship with the land. There is no mitigation for such a loss."

Native Americans insist they are not against renewable energy. The problem is that some solar projects were approved for lands that are an essential part of Native American religion, culture and history - without consultation with affected tribes.

The Colorado tribes and others in the desert are now joining to pressure developers and mount legal challenges. In Imperial County, for example, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians touts the support of the Cocopah, Quechan and Colorado tribes in its effort to derail Pattern Energy's proposed Ocotillo Wind project, which would scatter across 12,500 acres of BLM land up to 112 turbines, each 450 feet tall.

"The problems inherent in this fast-track process are exacerbated by the sheer number of projects proposed," Enas pointed out in his letter to Obama. "Our current count places over 40 proposed projects within a 50-mile radius of the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation.

"For projects that have been proposed but not yet approved, we ask that our input be sought out early and often, and that BLM be willing and able to turn down ill-sited projects," Enas wrote.

Native American objections threaten to undermine the BLM's efforts to create a plan for development of renewable energy across six Southwestern states. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan would unify the local and state ordinances and regulations into a single blueprint that developers could rely on.

Not surprisingly, the plan has gotten off to a rocky start in Indian country. It was introduced to desert tribal leaders in September. Steven Black, Salazar's alternative energy adviser, and other officials urged the tribes to provide regulatory agencies with detailed information about their cultural and natural resources. In return, he said, tribes could be eligible for loans and tax credits.

There have been few takers.

BLM Deputy State Director Thomas Pogacnik acknowledged in an interview that Native Americans had good reason to be angry about his agency's fast-track process, given that it relied almost entirely on information provided by developers to determine where to place the first "high-priority" wind and solar projects on public land.

Pogacnik promised that future projects will include more input from Indian tribes. "We learned a lot from that first go-round of projects that there is a better way of doing things," he said.

From http://www.kansascit...-artifacts.html

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