The face of the Mojave Desert, an arid region comprising more than 25,000 square miles of† southeastern California and portions of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, is changing. As a frequent visitor to this desert, I am concerned.
From The Los Angeles Times:
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-sized assembly buildings, looming berms of sand and a chain mail of fencing that will enclose more than 3,500 acres of public land. Moorings for 173,500 mirrors ó each the size of a garage door ó 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.
Six square miles of gleaming reflectors?
$2-Billion Solar Energy Plant
BrightSource Energy, based on Oakland, CA, is creating a solar power project at Ivanpah Valley, CA, and it will change the environment for miles around. The facility will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility and a gas-fired power plant.
The $2-billion plant will contain computers that 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 will drive an array of turbines capable of generating 370 megawatts, enough to power roughly 140,000 homes during peak hours.
That sounds great, but what about the surrounding land?
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 that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.
This is a dilemma with no clear answers, just compromises.
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.
From The Los Angeles Times:
“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.”
Industrial-scale solar development is well underway in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The federal government has furnished 21 million acres for solar power, more public property to this cause than it has for oil and gas exploration over the last decade.
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