Friday, May 7, 2010

Clash of the Titans: Endangered Tortoises vs. Solar Power Developers

I know, I know, it's not funny. But I'm still laughing. From the LA Times, via There's My Two Cents:
On a strip of California's Mojave Desert, two dozen rare tortoises could stand in the way of a sprawling solar-energy complex in a case that highlights mounting tensions between wilderness conservation and the nation's quest for cleaner power.
Oakland, Calif.-based BrightSource Energy has been pushing for more than two years for permission to erect 400,000 mirrors on the site to gather the sun's energy. It could become the first project of its kind on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property, leaving a footprint for others to follow on vast stretches of public land across the West.
The construction would come with a cost: Government scientists have concluded that more than 6 square miles of habitat for the federally threatened desert tortoise would be permanently lost.
The Sierra Club and other environmentalists want the complex relocated to preserve what they call a near-pristine home for rare plants and wildlife, including the protected tortoise, the Western burrowing owl and bighorn sheep.
"It's actually a good project. It's just located in the wrong place," said Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz.-based environmental group.
The dispute is likely to echo for years as more companies seek to develop solar, wind and geothermal plants on land treasured by environmentalists who also support the growth of alternative energy. In an area of stark beauty, the question will be what is worth preserving and at what cost as California pushes to generate one-third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Aside from the entertainment value of observing environmentalists being hoisted with their own petard, a more sobering aspect of the solar project in question is that it is part of a larger planned "solar farm" the size of Rhode Island. How's that for a small footprint? And the term "solar farm" deceptively sounds very Earth-friendly,  though it doesn't at all represent the fact of thousands of square miles covered by nothing but solar panels.

The image of an actual "solar farm" shown above gives us a better idea of why desert dwellers of any and every species might object to having their neighborhood turned into one. The particular section of the "solar farm" under discussion would have "seven 459-foot metal towers, a natural gas pipeline, water tanks, steam turbine generators, boilers and buildings for administration and maintenance," all "surrounded by 8-foot steel fencing."

California politicians have been scrambling to gain political points on the matter. On the side of the desert tortoises is Senator Dianne Feinstein. On the side of the solar energy developers is the Governator. From Yale Environment 360:
When Feinstein, a California Democrat, first indicated she favored walling off a large swath of the desert from renewable energy development, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger growled, “If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put it.”
There are a lot of possible answers to that question, depending on who you ask.
Related Post: Birds and Bees Get to Sue Obama? Green Energy's Fifth Column


  1. 99% of all the species which have lived on the Earth are now extinct.

  2. Solar and wind take up so much land and are not reliable sources--it's just astonishing this goofiness has gone this far. I'm rooting for the turtle on this one.

  3. Solar power also needs tons of water to cool the systems, something the mojave desert actually lacks because it's a desert. So you'll have to ship in the water...

    The problems are not just a matter of the land for the solar farm itself, but also all the infrastructure that will be needed to run the farm-- much more infrastructure, cost and enviromental changes than people seem to think. And all so we can get some unreliable and "goofy" electricity. Rught now, solar energy is an incredibly expensive dead end-- and probably will stay that way in the foreseeable future.

  4. Wind turbines and solar farms are unspeakable nonsense. Just pure, unadulterated stupidity.

    Thy putting one of those in my back yard and watch my 30/06 come out.