Solar Power: Eco-Friendly or Environmental Blight?


There is an interesting article in Time Magazine on solar proposals involving the Carrizo Plains.
Solar Power on the Carrizo: www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1887120,00.html?imw=Y
By Matt Kettmann / Carrisa Plains Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2009

California wants to run on sunshine. The state is forcing utility companies to provide 20% of their output by way of solar power and other forms of renewable energy by 2010. Last November, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he wanted the portion to be one-third by 2020. Now the feds are bringing the money to help fund all this sunny energy, with the Obama Administration’s stimulus package promising to pay for 30% of solar-power projects that begin by the end of 2010.

But could this politically backed, popularly supported solar surge spiral into eco-disaster? That’s what some say is happening to the Carrisa Plains, a sparsely populated swath of arid, sunny and relatively cheap land in eastern San Luis Obispo County, where three of the world’s largest solar plants ever proposed are under review.

People who live near the Carrizo Plains National Monument have concerns:

“It’s peaceful out here. I love the wildlife,” says Mike Strobridge, 32, an auto mechanic, explaining why he moved to the Carrisa Plains with his daughter. “But then these solar guys are going to come in, and they’re just gonna destroy the area.” Strobridge is especially troubled because he will be “surrounded on four sides” by the three projects. What’s more, like his neighbors and other concerned parties — including the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County — Strobridge is worried about the impact the power plants will have on endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox. He is also concerned about the effect on dwindling water supplies as well as the more intangible treasures of the area: the unimpeded views, the stark silence, the rustic natural beauty, the huge wilderness area called the Carrizo Plain National Monument just down the valley — that is, just about everything that led him to buy the property 10 years ago.

Although there is support for solar power among environmentalists (you may have seen AllianceforAmerica’s commercials) there are environmental and other concerns. Ranchers whose grazing rights are the subject of controversy may be making money on the new solar projects as well.

Darrell Twisselman — whose family has lived in the area since the 1880s and whose land would host the two photovoltaic plants for a hefty profit — remembers when they built a solar photovoltaic plant there in the mid-1980s. (At 6 megawatts, it was tiny compared with the current proposals, one of which has a 177-megawatt capacity.) The project faced similar gripes then. “Everyone complained about them for two weeks, and then everyone forgot,” Twisselman says. “And they were what you might say unsightly. You could see them from everywhere.” The technology, however, was worse then, and “the panels cooked,” melting in their own heat, says Twisselman. That was just one reason the government pulled funding and the project was dismantled.

Despite the earlier Carrisa solar experiment, the state feels it is still inexperienced in judging the impact of huge solar plants. According to California Energy Commission chairwoman Karen Douglas, “We’ve got much more experience siting natural-gas plants than siting renewables, both from a staff and commission perspective. So some issues are rising up in the renewables case that are substantively different than what has been the core of the siting work before the solar applications started coming in so quickly.”

Also:

Check out the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. There has already been a vote on some amendments, but there are other votes coming up:
Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 – H.R.146

The House will vote on this public lands, national parks and water development legislation.

Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act – H.R.1404

The House is scheduled to vote on this bill intended to improve funding and management of fighting wildfires.

And please consider signing the petition to release the Department of Interior’s Inspector General’s Report on the death of Carrizo Plain National Monument manager Marlene Braun by clicking here.

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