Monthly Archives: September 2010

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CEC responds to your comments on Ivanpah

Or at least they sort of respond to some of them.

The document embedded below is the “Errata to the Presiding Members Proposed Decision” on Ivanpah SEGS by the California Energy Commission, in which they detail changes to the PMPD document based on public comment received. They seem to have picked and chosen the things to which they respond. For instance, my comments about the original document’s failure to address visual impact on nearly 100 square miles of the Mojave Preserve’s main unit are nowhere mentioned or addressed.

From the document:

Approximately 89 parties, individuals, and organizations commented on the PMPD. Their names are listed below. Those comments which raised substantial new environmental issues as well as selected other comments, are addressed throughout the remainder of this Decision. For substantively similar comments made by multiple commenters, our responses address the comment as a group, rather than individually. General comments to the effect that the Energy Commission should or should not approve the project were considered by the Commission but are not responded to individually.

Parties: Applicant, Basin & Range Watch, California Native Plant Society, CEC Staff, Center for Biological Diversity, San Bernadino County, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds

Non-Party Organizations: American Lung Association, CA Dept of Fish and Game, Southern California Edison, Californians for Reliable Energy, Inc., Western Lands Project

Individuals: Monica Alvarez, Janeen Armstrong, John Beetham, Tom Budlong, Chris Clarke, Craig Deutsche, David Dills, Amanda Finger, Jared Fuller, Kelly Fuller, Shaun Gonzales, Eric Hamburg, Richard Haney, Larry Hogue, Brendan Hughes, Timothy Ingalls, William C. McDonald, Thomas Meister, James Moody, LeRoy Murray, Susan Murray, Mary Ann Schroder, Rachel Shaw, Charlie Shrimplin, Michael and Joan Simmons, Charlotte Smith, Katherene Smith, Kim Snyder, Rebecca Swan

Saint Leo University Students: Monica Alvarez, Brittany Brasseur, Marquetta Brown, Chris Cappuccilli, Allison Cary, Michael Castronuovo, Julia Cavallo, Zhen Feng Chen, Elise Clyburn, Karen Coradin, Jessyca Daniel, Erin Davis, Chamel Dayaa, Nick Dublino, Sarah Eade, Nicoletta Everett, Anella Garness, Heather Gick, Brittany Groubert, Jeraldine Guaba, Stephen Hallet, Luke Haniford, Laquida Jennings, Kelvin Justiniano, Joe Kaman, Matthew Kendrick, Brooke King, Bryan Komorowski, Leah MacPherson, Megan Mancuso, Ryan McArdell, Richie Miller, JiHae Moon, Courtney Murphy, Chelsea Olivero, John M. Peterson, Ryan Popovich, Konstantin Pyankov, Ryan Regidor, Catherine Sands, Sara Schmalz, Kevin Sullivan, Andre Swain, Jamal Thompson, Preston Walsh, Terry Whitted, Sarah Young.

That’s a record number of comments on a CEC document. Thank you all for speaking truth to power. The thing about doing so is that power doesn’t always listen, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have to speak.

Errata to the Presiding Members Proposed Decision (Ivanpah SEGS)

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Camp Ivanpah: The Video

Journalist Claes Andreasson, who has been doing good work covering desert solar for Swedish Public Radio and other outlets, came out to see us at Camp Ivanpah the week before last. He interviewed a number of participants, including yours truly, and has just released this nine-minute video about the encampment and the Ivanpah Valley.

Jeffrey Byron pushes the desert tortoise closer to extinction

Tessera’s Calico Solar Project is another one of those projects that’s likely even worse than Ivanpah. Originally proposed for a swath of land east of Barstow that would have been larger than the city of Berkeley, Calico would affect not just the federally threatened desert tortoise, but the Mojave fringe-toed lizard and the desert bighorn as well. Unsurprisingly, Basin and Range Watch is a great resource for information on Calico, and Shaun at Mojave Desert Blog — with whom Basin and Range Watch’s Laura and I had the pleasure of dining this past week in DC — has a lot of dope on Calico at his place as well.

It’s a really stupid project. We described various aspects of the project to Congressional aides in DC and made them shake their heads in despair. Thousands of gigantic Stirling-engine-equipped dishes would track the sun — a basically useless technology that has proved supremely unreliable at the company’s demonstration site in Maricopa, AZ, where each “Suncatcher” has two replacement engines tucked away for swapping out when the working engine fails. That’s an ungainly arrangement if you have just 60 suncatchers, as is the case at Maricopa. It becomes insane when you’re scaling that up to 26,450 Suncatchers, which is what Tessera is proposing these days for Calico.

Each Suncatcher reflects and focuses sunlight onto a four-cylinder Stirling engine, which uses thermal expansion of a fluid to drive the pistons in each cylinder. Peak output for each Suncatcher would be 25 kilowatts. That’s peak output of electricity. The Suncatchers will output other things as well, mainly including noise. Imagine 26,450 unmufflered Volvos revving in a 4,600 acre area for as long as the sun is out. At a distance of two miles, says the CEC, noise from the Calico Suncatchers should not exceed 57decibels.  A 2006 paper in Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine recommended an upper limit of 55 decibels for “large open offices, restaurants, gymnasiums, [and] swimming pools.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to the desert to enjoy sounds louder than I can find in a crowded restaurant here in Los Angeles.

Anyway, the California Energy Commission has released its Presiding Member’s Proposed Decision on the Calico Solar Project. Guess what? Presiding Member Jeffrey Byron recommends approval.

I’ve heard Jeffrey Byron is not actually a bad guy: looking forward to retirement, friendly even to people on the other side, yada yada.

If Jeffrey Byron is a nice guy, he’s a nice guy with blood on his hands. If even Calico gets the nod from the CEC staff, then the CEC is in no way keeping the environment in mind as it goes about its business.

Read the whole PMPD below, if you have the stomach for it.

Calico PMPD

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Blythe, if anything, is worse

I have a personal connection to the Ivanpah Valley, so that’s what you’ve been reading about here for the most part.

On Wednesday the California Energy Commission approved a solar project that would be twice the size of Ivanpah. The contractor is Solar Millennium. The project is called Blythe Solar. As Shaun says, 

The site will disturb at least 7000 acres of habitat in the Colorado desert in Southern California, making it the largest site to be approved this year.  The project will destroy sand dune habitat for the threatened Mojave fringe-toed lizard (at least 57 were spotted on the site), bighorn sheep foraging grounds, and nesting areas for the burrowing owl.

Kevin of Basin and Range Watch, in comments on the above-linked post, adds that

People from the Chemehuevi and Ft. Mojave Indian Tribe have stated that the CEC’s and BLM’s estimate of “200 cultural sites” is “way off”. They say over 1,000 sites are on the project site. That is why the CEC gave the over ride order on cultural resources for Blythe.

Those 1,000 sites include a number of geoglyphs, some of them ancient.

When Chemehuevi elder Phil Smith of the Colorado River Indian Tribes and Fort Mohave Indian Tribe representative Rev. Ron Van Fleet came out to Camp Ivanpah, they made a commitment to help stop the Ivanpah project. Some of their reasons were covered in this article in the Las Vegas Review Journal. Some of the possibilities are quite exciting, and I’ll be keeping you posted here.

But their priority is Blythe, which would destroy much of the local tribes’ history. In the last post I referred to Blythe as constituting cultural genocide. Sounds like hyperbole, I know, but I think it’s not inaccurate. Mr. Smith and Rev. Van Fleet made it clear that any help the tribes could get from folks outside would be warmly welcomed.

I took that to include me, so I’ll likely be spending some time in Blythe as well as working to promote the Native folks’ efforts there from my desk here, and you’ll be hearing more about the project on this site in days to come. Basin and Range Watch has a lot of great information to start you off.

Meanwhile, I’m heading to LAX tomorrow afternoon to fly to DC, to join a few of my Solar Done Right colleagues to lobby against giant concentrating solar projects and in favor of localized, small-scale renewables. I’ll have a netbook, so I may be able to post a thing or two. At the very least, I’ll post a thing or two a day on my Twitter feed. We’re meeting an insane number of people between Monday and Thursday. I’ll be back Friday.

IMPORTANT: The Desert Protective Council is covering my expenses for that trip. If you’d like to make a quick gesture of support for my work on all this you can drop some cash on them via Network For Good.