Left Civil War: Environmentalists vs Solar Companies

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Environmentalists are at odds with solar and wind power companies over a federal plan released Tuesday to build green energy sources in the Mojave desert.

Environmental groups like the Center For Biological Diversity have pursued legal action to block the creation of solar-farms out of fear that they would encroach on 32 endangered desert tortoises and that sunlight-concentrating panels act like super-heated death-rays for birds, killing tens of thousands of them.

The federal plan would open up about half a million acres of the Mojave desert, an area half the size of Rhode Island, to development by solar and wind power. The Department of the Interior claims that the area could support up to 20,000 megawatts of green energy projects.

“All energy sources have environmental impacts, so it’s really important to keep in mind when looking at all of these things, that nothing is free,” said Barbara Boyle, senior campaign representative for the National Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign to The Las Vegas Sun. “The whole issue with solar really relates to finding the right places to put solar energy and not putting it in the wrong places.”

“We’re really having some concerns over that,” Boyle said of the Interior Department’s plan. “There are areas that have high-density tortoise and bighorn sheep population, and some migratory bird routes.”

The Mojave desert and the its surrounding area have the sun and wind potential to support 20,000 megawatts of green energy projects according to the study. The Secretary of the Interior even said that such public lands will “play a key role” in helping the Obama administration meet its goal of procuring 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources (excluding large hydro dams) by 2030—up from about 7 percent now.

The [Mojave] Desert has some of the most intact natural landscapes in the lower 48,”  Erica Brand, California energy program director at the Nature Conservancy, told Newsweek. “As we transition to cleaner energy sources, and work to meet our climate goals, we also have to keep those natural resources intact.”

One of the world’s largest solar power plants, the BrightSoure Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, is located in the Mojave and widely considered to be an example of what further solar development in the region would look life.

In its first year of operation , the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility had a capacity factor of 12%, equivalent to 45 megawatts for $2.2 billion. At peak capacity, the plant could power 140,000 homes a year. The plant has been heavily criticized for serious ecological impacts by environmentalists and media outlets. The facility killed so many birds that the California Energy Commission proposed to deny the company’s petition for another solar plant like it.

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