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Does Sen. Feinstein get global warming, desertification, and California’s looming demise?

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"Does Sen. Feinstein get global warming, desertification, and California’s looming demise?"

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Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) appears to like deserts so much that she wants them to stretch from Oklahoma to California and cover one third the planet.

The AP reported Friday, “Feinstein seeks [to] block solar power from desert land“:

Nineteen companies have submitted applications to build solar or wind facilities on a parcel of 500,000 [Mojave] desert acres, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Friday such development would violate the spirit of what conservationists had intended when they donated much of the land to the public.

Feinstein said Friday she intends to push legislation that would turn the land into a national monument, which would allow for existing uses to continue while preventing future development.

I am sympathetic to “conservationists,” but mostly to those who are trying to conserve what matters most, a livable climate. The solar resource is the only one capable of sustaining the nation’s and world’s population, even if we all become far, far more efficient (see “The Solution“).

The good news is that concentrated solar thermal power (CSP aka solar baseload aka “The technology that will save humanity“) is such an efficient converter of the sun’s energy that we could generate half the country’s power with a 65 mile by 65 mile square grid in the southwest. The “bad” news is that the obvious place to put much of California’s CSP is the Mojave Desert:

The Wildlands Conservancy orchestrated the government’s purchase of the land between 1999-2004…. David Myers, the conservancy’s executive director, said the solar projects would do great harm to the region’s desert tortoise population.

“It would destroy the entire Mojave Desert ecosystem,” said David Myers, executive director of The Wildlands Conservancy.

Deserts are certainly fragile, inhospitable eco-systems — a key reason that nobody should want them spreading over one third the planet or the entire U.S. Southwest for 1,000 years (see “Intro to global warming impacts“). Certainly, Californian, Nobelist, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu gets this (see Chu: “Wake up,” America, “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California”).

So California can’t be saved without significant development in the desert, as Governor Schwarzenegger and the Interior Department seem to understand, at least.

Feinstein said the lands in question were donated or purchased with the intent that they would be protected forever. But the Bureau of Land Management considers the land now open to all types of development, except mining. That policy led the state to consider large swaths of the land for future renewable energy production.

“This is unacceptable,” Feinstein said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “I urge you to direct the BLM to suspend any further consideration of leases to develop former railroad lands for renewable energy or for any other purpose.”

In a speech last year, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger complained about environmental concerns slowing down the approval of solar plants in California.

I have little doubt that the solar resource can be tapped in a way that can preserve the tortoise, but I have no doubt whatsoever that failing to take advantage of the massive solar resource in the California desert — and in deserts around the country and around the planet — will wipe out a large fraction of the species on this planet.

The article hints at a compromise:

But Karen Douglas, chairman of the California Energy Commission, said Feinstein’s proposal could be a “win-win” for energy and conservation. The governor’s office said Douglas was speaking on the administration’s behalf.

“The opportunity we see in the Feinstein bill is to jump-start our own efforts to find the best sites for development and to come up with a broader conservation plan that mitigates the impact of the development,” Douglas said.

Douglas said that if the national monument lines were drawn without consideration of renewable energy then a conflict was likely, but it’s early enough in the planning process that she’s confident the state will be able to get more solar and wind projects up and running without hurting the environment.

“We think we can do both,” Douglas said. “We think this is an opportunity to accelerate both”….

Feinstein’s spokesman, Gil Duran, said the senator looks forward to working with the governor and the Interior Department on the issue.

“There’s plenty of room in America’s deserts for the bold expansion of renewable energy projects,” Duran said.

If Feinstein’s office believes that, then perhaps this should have been handled behind the scenes, taking some time to work with a friendly new administration — rather than by dropping this bombshell letter all over the media.

And, of course, this letter gave global warming deniers and their enablers a chance to rejoice at the seeming hypocrisy of some environmentalists. The uber-conservative readers of the “Power Line News Forum” are all over this like white on rice GOP voters (see here). My favorite poster there has a signature line that sums up the entire civilization-destroying, Ponzi-scheme-boosting conservative ideology:

“Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others.” — Ayn Rand

Seriously. But I digress.

Today, the country is not even serious about global warming, and I don’t meet even 2 people in 100 who “get” global warming — the holocaust that is coming on our current emissions path and the staggering amount of clean energy that must be deployed to avert that. This allows people the “luxury” of balancing seemingly competing interests.

Over the next decade or so, I do think the country and the world will get serious — and global warming will rise to a truly first-tier issue for most. By 2030, “When the global Ponzi scheme collapses,” though, the country and the world will be desperate — and global warming mitigation (and “adaptation”) will dwarf all other issues. Then things like Feinstein’s letter will be a thing of the distant past, and humanity will rightfully start ignoring many if not most other concerns.

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39 Responses to Does Sen. Feinstein get global warming, desertification, and California’s looming demise?

  1. jorleh says:

    If they don`t see they don`t believe. And then it is too late. After twenty years it is too late, and of course half of the people are waiting a decade more to be sure to believe what they see.

  2. raivo pommer-eesti says:

    Raivo Pommer
    raimo1@hot.ee

    90 Millionen Eurohilf

    Die vom anhaltenden Preisverfall bei Milch schwer gebeutelten deutschen Milchbauern können mit 90 Millionen Euro aus dem EU-Konjunkturprogramm rechnen. Bundesagrarministerin Ilse Aigner (CSU) sagte am Montag in Brüssel, sie werde dies bei einem Treffen mit ihren Länderkollegen am Donnerstag und Freitag in Magdeburg beraten. Die Staats- und Regierungschefs der 27 EU-Länder hatten sich bei ihrem Treffen vergangene Woche auf ein 5 Milliarden Euro schweres EU-Konjunkturprogramm geeinigt. Ein Fünftel davon soll in den Ausbau des Breitbandnetzes sowie Umwelt- oder Klimaschutzmaßnahmen – im EU-Jargon «neue Herausforderungen» – fließen. Deutschland setzte sich während der Verhandlungen dafür ein, dass darunter auch Hilfsmaßnahmen für die Milchbauern wie etwa Fördergelder bei Stallneubauten fallen können. Auf die Bundesrepublik entfallen insgesamt etwa 90 Millionen Euro. Wieviel davon in den Milchsektor fließt, muss gemeinsam mit den Bundesländern entschieden werden.

  3. john says:

    Thanks for calling her on this, Joe. Surely, Fenstein’s stand is one of the most ignorant positions one could take.

  4. hapa says:

    joe it would be a service to the southwest if you’d do an estimate for everybody of how much land you’re talking about — generation and transmission — so the early inadequate plans don’t end up forcing the later efforts into the worst possible corners of the desert landscape.

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    “The “bad” news is that the obvious place to put much of California’s CSP is the Mojave Desert:”

    Why?

    There’s a heck of a lot of desert in that area. You could go just south of there, on the other side of Interstate 40 and still have a highway right of way to bury HVDC transmission lines.

    You could go just west of the Preserve and decrease transmission distance.

    You could go north of the Preserve and use the area south of Death Valley and bring the transmission lines down I15.

    Is there something particular about this particular area?

    Seems to me as if the Preserve was purchased by private money to be set aside and “preserved” we should make an attempt to honor that intent.

    (I’ve got absolutely no problem with using a sizable hunk of the desert for energy production. I’m just wondering if this is the right piece to be using.)

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    A bit more…

    Might it be time to start thinking about the “Southern US Intertie” – the HVDC line from”LA to Dallas and on to the East Coast”?

    The line that will eventually bring early morning sunshine from Florida to LA and evening stored thermal to the East Coast. And pick up some of that good west Texas wind along the way….

    Seems like siting massive So Cal solar sites might be done in a way that the transmission lines from the solar ranches would be the first leg of that big wire.

    Get it further south and let it follow the interstate east.

  7. Senator Dianne Feinstein is the worst of the worst, and I’m really astonished that it has taken you people so long to figure that out. This is the LEAST harmful thing she has said or done during the last eight years of the bush administration. Yet you keep voting her back into office. How could that be?

  8. EricG says:

    Please Thomas, Senator Feinstein is not the “worst of the worst”.

    Feinstein went to the mat to save ANWR and raise CAFE standards during the Bush administration. We weren’t complaining about her then. She is certainly more conservative than I would prefer, but please save your hyperbole for Cheney, Imhoff, Bush, or someone else who truly has no redeeming qualities.

  9. Ron Broberg says:

    Alt Energy Advocates and Environmentalists have to form a working coalition. If Enviros are successful in blocking new wind, wave, and solar projects – coal wins and we all lose.

    Energy conservation is great and I’m all for it. But eventually, we will need new energy sources. Lay the groundwork today and it can be clean energy. Wait until we need it and it will be fossil fuels – coal and nat gas. Enviros need a long term vision that is not static and includes future impacts of global warming.

  10. Dianne Feinstein sanctioned torture. She’s a war criminal who has violated the constitution she swore to defend and protect. Wrap your mind around that.

    That was one of her lesser crimes.

  11. C Robb says:

    I don’t see it as either/or. If we need the energy then we should sacrifice our own space. We can’t afford to sacrifice any more functioning ecosystems. We can simultaneously reduce demand to a huge degree and provide space for large scale CSP plants by bulldozing Las Vegas. It is doomed anyway and is a serious drain on the water table, for what? Temples of consumerism, monuments to excess, and haloed halls of greed and vice. This is worth preserving? I’d sooner preserve the tortoise and all it’s habitat.

  12. paulm says:

    Joe you didnt post her email?

  13. Joe says:

    Paulm — Couldn’t find it. Not on her site.

  14. Wes Rolley says:

    There are a lot of reasons to dislike what Feinstein does to California while she talks of working for California. But she often gets right to the crux of an issue and either forces a decision or tries to negotiate a compromise that makes no one happy and, like Cal-FED water compromise, often fails because is solved nothing.

    As long as activists view themselves as saving the environment, there is little hope for compromise here. We need people to start thinking in ecological terms… it is too easy to think of the environment as a place visit rather than as where we live.

    In the long term, the answer may not ever be in the mega projects such as this. Still, that is the way government and industry find it easist to invest… sell the big project so that you can demonstrate big results. If we have a smart enough grid, then all of the little contributions can achieve the same total power with much less ecological impact.

    Of course, that takes generation out of the control of the big power companies, and disperses it through the many sites. We will be better off without big project, single technology solutions. Call it an energy permaculture with each segment contributing its share.

  15. Sasparilla says:

    Very good article Joe. As John said, Sen. Feinstein’s position/actions appear very ignorant – its terrible having to depend on politicians to get this done.

  16. Marie says:

    You are probably right, that this proposal should have been handled behind the scenes, but, in every case where environmental groups/conservation organizations are or appear to be opposing renewable energy development, it should be taken as an opening salvo in pursuing an attractive mitigation package. A big gap and very worthy area for investment (has been shown to produce 3:1 economic efficiencies) is identifying priority areas for conservation and then pursuing advance mitigation deals based on these. The conservation NGOs and agencies need to identify (and the development agencies need to keep asking), what are there priority areas outside of those that are needed for transmission lines or solar baseload.

  17. Carlin says:

    Hey Joe,
    According to Wikipedia, the Mojave Desert covers more than 22,000 sq. miles of land. If we only need a 65 x 65 mi. (4,225 sq. mi.) tract for solar installations to generate half of our electricity demand, wouldn’t that leave 80% of the desert intact?

    I don’t believe tortoises cover too much ground. And one change that will certainly decimate desert reptile populations is a permanent temperature spike of 5-7 degrees C.

    Best,
    Carlin

    [JR: Your point about reptiles is well taken and one I will return to. Yes, I think we can avoid the most ecologically sensitive areas of the Mojave. I thought Myers' quote was a bit too much and I also thought that this is not an issue that needed to be made public. Obama has only been president a couple of months, and Salazar has had even less time on the job.]

  18. Rick C says:

    The delayers and deneyers who are making political hay out of this controversy are disingenous in the least and climate criminals at worst. Their idea of environmental sensitivity is to continue blasting mountains for coal, who’s grade quality continues to go down forcing utilities to burn more of it to get the same energy output, transporting it on long diesel powered conveyer belts called trains and burning it in the most environmentally damaging way in coal fired generating plants. Compared to that the problems with Concentrated Solar Power are manageable. Siting will be contentious but doable. CSP is perhaps the only way we will realistically replace all of those coal fired plants with clean base load power. We will also need the smart grid to manage all of that new power and the wind generated power along withit.

  19. Delay and denial is not confined to delusional disbelievers of science.

    One can accept global warming and not yet understand the enormity of the problem. I am that way, and I suspect most folks do the same – understand global warming is happening but are not quite sure what to do about it.

    Denial appears at all levels of addressing the problem.

  20. Bill Woods says:

    “we could generate half the country’s power with a 65 mile by 65 mile square grid”
    That’s pushing it.

    [JR: I'm glad you don't disagree with the analysis -- nor do any of the facts below dispute it. And, of course, I do expect the technology to improve over time in footprint, especially as it scales up. ]

    The country uses 4e15 W-h/yr ~= 4e11 W
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epa_sum.html

    2e11 W / 65^2 mi^2 ~= 5e7 W/mi^2 = 50 MW/mi^2

    “A typical 100 megawatt BrightSource solar thermal plant requires 850 acres of land or 1.25 square miles.”   
    http://www.edison.com/files/solarFAQs.pdf
    100 MW(peak) / 1.25 mi^2 x 0.33 = 26 MW(average)/mi^2

    Solana:
    280 MW(peak) / 1900 acres x 0.4(?) = 40(?) MW(ave)/mi^2

    “Development of large-scale solar electricity generation plants requires a unique set of conditions. Although solar intensity is high in most of Arizona and some other areas of the southwest, other considerations reduce the area practically available for development of this resource. Optimal areas would include generally flat (less than 1 percent slope) land that is not affected by summer monsoons or heavy blowing dust, proximity to transmission lines and available water for plan operation.”
    http://www.aps.com/main/green/Solana/Benefits.html
    How well those conditions overlap those of tortoise habitat, I don’t know.

    Maps of the solar power resource:
    http://www.nrel.gov/csp/maps.html

  21. I find it interesting that pro-solar advocates want to attack Dianne Feinstein for protecting our pristine desert environments. I guess many renewable energy advocates are not really environmentalist after all which I guess makes them similar to the pro-wind advocates who also don’t seem to care about our environment.

    If we really want to dramatically reduce global warming while also protecting the environment then we need to do what most other industrialized countries in the world are currently doing– dramatically increasing their nuclear energy capacity.

    http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/

    [JR: I have never been an environmentalist so I can't really comment on your first paragraph except to say that a livable climate is the most essential element of our environment. We have been building nuclear power plants at a rate of 3 or 4 a year for a while -- not bloody much. don't expect that to change soon. Nuclear will never be more than about 10% of the overall global warming solution, if that.]

  22. paulm says:

    Marcel,that is farcical. Maybe in the short term. But I think now we are coming to the realization that we need to ‘grow up’ and implement truly sustainable solutions.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    Marcel F. Williams — Germany wants to shut down their nukes.

  24. I’ve been a Californian for 33 years now and generally speaking Senator Feinstein has been a good moderate Democrat and far better than any Republican who has ever run against her. But if she’s ever been anything it’s incredibly safe and incremental – no matter the issue.

    But now, in this moment of crisis and time for action she does not have the sense of urgency and does not possess the leadership qualities or skill sets necessary to make the kind of difference our state needs to have a shot at combating climate change.

    I AM an environmentalist and I want the desert environment protected. But AS an environmentalist I understand priorities and I get that climate change is our number one most urgent priority. We have a handful of years to turn this battleship around 180 degrees and that means figuring out a way to put large scale solar in the Mohave while still protecting the environment.

    In the meantime we need to rapidly accelerate the installation of grid tied rooftop solar. That’s why I’m taking classes to learn to install my own system and that’s why I’m volunteering with Grid Alternatives to help install solar on low income housing right away.

    It’s too bad Senator Feinstein isn’t out front carrying the banner for projects like these and sounding the Paul Revere warning about what’s coming.

    Being good is not enough when greatness is called for. It’s time for Dianne Feinstein to rise to the occasion or start backing someone else who can get the job done.

  25. You mean how Senator Dianne Feinstein rose to the occasion of greatness when she stood up to George W. Bush? Good luck with that.

  26. Bill Woods says:

    David Benson: “Germany wants to shut down their nukes.”

    And replace them with coal plants!!
    “Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) is pushing for the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Germany. “We need eight to twelve new coal plants if we want to get off of nuclear energy,” Gabriel said…
    The gap in energy supply, after the shutdown of nuclear power by 2020, cannot be closed through renewable energies, said Gabriel. ”
    http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.news-adhoc.com%2Fgabriel-betont-notwendigkeit-neuer-kohlekraftwerke-idna2009031322122%2F&sl=de&tl=en&hl=en&ie=UTF-8

  27. Germany wants to shut down their nuclear reactors but they can’t because they know that they’d have to replace them with coal. Meanwhile Germany continues to import even more nuclear electricity from France which has a carbon footprint dramatically lower than Germany thanks to their nuclear capacity.

    Asia, Europe, and even Brazil are rapidly investing in more nuclear reactors while the US with its huge carbon footprint hasn’t built a new reactor in decades. Continuing to fall behind the rest of the world in building new clean nuclear power plants is not a good idea for the US or for the global environment.

    Solar and wind combined only supply less than 2% of US electric capacity. Even if you increased this capacity by a factor of ten, it would only produce 20% our electricity in the US. There’s enough room on current nuclear power sites to more than triple US nuclear capacity which could supply 70% of our total electricity needs.

  28. Andrew says:

    Yes, the Mohave covers 14 million acres. Most of it not in the national monument or other preserves. Why not approach energy development in a calm, well thought out manner in which the little land dedicated to wilderness or wildlife (a tiny, tiny fraction of this nation’s land) is avoided and development on other public lands is conducted in a manner that consolidates and decreasese the overall fragmentation of the land?

    There are private lands that can be used as well.

    I sense panic. Do it right now or each and every mistake made (loss of endangered species, or easily forgone better alternative sites later pointed out) will be brought to light and used by deniers as a weapon against future federally funded or facilitated renewable energy developments.

    The scientists who are alerting us to the dangers of global warming were very cautious and made sure they had it right before ringing the alarm bells. Energy development and other saving technologies should take the same approach and do it right the first time.

    There is no need to panic. There is a need to act immediately.

  29. DC says:

    It seems like Feinstein has been using good judgement when it comes to environmental policies, but this isn’t her first slip up:

    Funding for forest service roads and fish habitat: NO
    HR2466 9/14/1999

    She still is a wolf in sheep skin when it comes to the Basic Human Rights:
    1. Extend PATRIOT Act: YES
    S.2271 3/1/2006

    2. Telecom Immunity for violating privacy laws.
    When I wroter her about this, she replied saying that she didnt’ want this issue to hold up other legislation.

  30. hapa says:

    joe: a couple days’ thinking: it would be AMAZING to place an op-ed in the LAT that described a full-scale build of CSP in terms of space and time and care required. something that really got people thinking bigger and with focus.

  31. Chris Clarke says:

    Leaving aside the ecologically ignorant conflation of desert habitat and “desertification,” which bear nearly no similarity to each other outside of semantics, this post betrays an astonishing gullibility toward pronouncements by the energy industry. Few if any of the people opposing concentrating solar projects in the wild Mojave are opposed to all desert solar projects.

    There are tens of thousands of acres of land in the Mojave Desert that have been scraped clean of all native life and planted with alfalfa, a low-value crop irrigated with subsidized water, or farmed for a while and then abandoned. Most of these parcels are far closer to electrical consumers and transmission rights of way than are the wilderness sites currently under consideration. It is low-value land, much of it bought as speculation expecting a real-estate boom that will never come. Much of the land consists of large parcels owned by single individuals or companies.

    Why are these parcels not being discussed when we talk about concentrating solar? Because the solar speculators are actually motivated by taking investors’ money, not so much by producing carbon-neutral energy, and having to pay 2,000-4,000 an acre for a project site makes a project less enticing to get-rich-quick investors, even if the income and carbon reduction potential is greater on the farmed-out land.

    I’ve been an environmental journalist for twenty years, and a radical environmental activist for longer. I know as well as anyone what we’re up against with climate change. When I edited Earth Island Journal we reported on runaway climate change, the destabilization of tundra and methane clathrate deposits, the likelihood of non-linear and thus catastrophic change from half a dozen different directions. We are in big trouble.

    And this is a gold rush, plain and simple. It’s a public lands giveaway that people calling themselves environmentalists have been hoodwinked into supporting. Simple engineering sense would dictate the closer, already-graded areas, many of them with actual housing nearby for workers. But those aren’t being discussed, and those of us who actually know something about the conditions on the ground — who aren’t declaiming from afar about other areas needing to take one for the team — are dismissed as “NIMBYists” or, what was the line above? “Disingenous in the least and climate criminals at worst.”

    The only difference between that kind of argument and Bush energy policy is that once desert mountains are “removed” for solar mining, the New Face of Big Energy won’t leave sunshine slag heaps lying around.

  32. Larry Hogue says:

    Joe,

    First, “desertification” does not mean “creating more desert habitat.” Deserts are vital habitats for a wide variety of species, and these species add greatly to the planet’s diversity of life. Further, deserts actually store a great deal of carbon, on par with some temperate forests. Desertification, on the other hand, is always a process of degrading habitat, removing diversity, and destroying carbon sequestration. See Chris Clarke’s excellent blog post on this topic: http://tinyurl.com/atuzrq . He points out that the term “desertification” should be changed to something else like “dustification,” because of the word’s negative connotation toward deserts.

    There are vast tracts of the Mojave Desert that have indeed been “desertified,” and might be appropriate for industrial developments like concentrating solar power. The problem is, most of these are in private hands. As the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope has pointed out, there’s a perverse incentive for solar entrepreneurs to locate on cheap public land rather than on more expensive private land.

    This is exactly the situation with BrightSource’s Ivanpah project, which is located in good desert tortoise habitat. The company had the option of doing the more environmentally friendly thing, which was to locate the project near the town of Daggett just off of Interstate 40. A map of these two options is available at this link: http://tinyurl.com/dmbabr. But BrightSource turned that option down because it was “not economical”, and the California Energy Commission is letting it get away with it.

    The company has also offered only a 1:1 mitigation ratio (one acre of land purchased for conservation to every one acre destroyed), when the scientific protocol is 5:1. The idea that concentrating solar can be developed in an environmentally sensitive manner is not being borne out by this first, and most prominent, solar development in the California desert. Instead, as with most industries, the company seeks to externalize its costs onto the public in the form of degraded habitat.

    Baseload: BrightSource is not using any storage technology, so as you admitted on one Grist post, this is not really baseload power. Since it’s really peaking power, it has only a small advantage over that other peaking solar power, photovoltaics, in that it can produce power slightly past 4:00 p.m. But both can contribute to a reduction in coal-fired power because if we have enough solar. even without storage, and whether it is PV or CSP, then current baseload plants will become “reverse load following” plants. This is very hard duty for a coal-fired power plant to perform, and there are a lot of moth-balled gas-fired plants just waiting to take over that duty.

    Another option is to build concentrating solar at a smaller scale, as eSolar wants to do. Stirling Energy Systems has a technology that could work (if it works at all!) as easily for distributed generation as it can for large-scale projects, but again economics are the only thing pushing it to build massive installations in the desert. As one smart previous commenter said, this has more to do with having a large-enough project to attract investors, than with building the most appropriate project.

    Since there are other solar options to large-scale concentrating solar, and there are better ways to do concentrating solar than what’s currently happening, it is unfair to characterize those who are concerned about the impacts of these large-scale projects as global warming deniers. Please, leave out the villification and help us look for the best, truly environmentally friendly solutions to global warming.

  33. Larry Hogue says:

    Thanks for approving the comment Joe. The link to that Google map was broken. Here’s a better one: http://tinyurl.com/solarmap2

    This map will evolve as people with knowledge of different areas add sites that really are appropriate for solar. Then we’ll just need the political will to insist on the best approaches to solar, not the business-as-usual models.

  34. Jim Eaton says:

    Joe,

    I have been closely following global warming issues for several decades, and I clearly understand the incredible challenges we face in getting off fossil fuel and onto renewable energy sources as fast as possible. And even so, a lot of bad things are going to happen due to what we already have put into the pipeline.

    But having spent my career protecting California’s wild places, it is incumbent upon me to defend our deserts. These are living ecosystems. In 1994, Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act, designating 7 million acres of my state’s federal desert lands as wilderness. And on Monday, President Obama approved legislation that added even more desert land to our National Wilderness Preservation System.

    Unlike some of my friends, I do feel it is necessary to find some places in our deserts to build concentrated solar projects. But as mentioned above, there are disturbed private lands and some public lands that should be looked at first. And the suggestion of tearing down Las Vegas and building renewable energy projects there certainly is appealing.

    But some of the projects being offered at this time are bogus.

    For example, there is a project being proposed in the Ivanpah Valley in the eastern Mojave. Good desert tortoise habitat. This information was gleaned from a staff person who works for the California Energy Commission. The discussion occurred during our neighborhood Friday happy hour, where our dogs played on the green while the parents sipped wine and kumquat daiquiris, so I hope I have this straight.

    I was surprised to learn how much water the Ivanpah project would use, so I started looking through the staff reports on the plan. Most the water required would be used to wash the mirrors each night. This will be done by slowly driving diesel trucks through the complex spraying water on the mirrors. There is no reclamation of water planned; the water is expected to be evaporated during the next day.

    My friend said he was puzzled by the amount of diesel emissions that were expected from the project. Now he realizes it was from the mirror washing. It was determined that the CO2 emissions from the nightly forays of the trucks would be about the same as if the power plants were burning natural gas instead of capturing the energy of the sun. So there is no benefit in reducing greenhouse gasses from this particular project.

    He shared that another project being proposed as a “solar” plant near Victorville actually would be powered by natural gas 90 percent of the time, with only 10 percent of the energy coming from the sun.

    I know there are solar technologies that do not use lots of water or lots of fossil fuels. But these are the projects that need to be advanced, not the ones on the front burner now.

    Jim

  35. Good comments from Chris, Larry and Jim.

    I would just like to add that I believe that the amount of roof tops in the southwest alone could save enough energy and cut enough GHG to rival the amount of industrial facilities planned for the Mojave Desert. Rood top energy does not need to be backed up by a Natural Gas base load. Natural Gas plants will emit GHG on a large scale. The energy from a small personal photovoltaic system can store enough energy in batteries to power a home all night. Large industrial facilities can not do this. A system where home owners can sell energy back to a power company will provide a great incentive for people. The Feed in Tarif is the most environmentally friendly way to produce green power.

    There are enough of us who love our deserts. We are going to make major efforts to stop as many of these projects as possible. We may not be able to stop them all, but when you consider the amount of people who love the deserts, you have to face that this fight will just make no one happy. I say this not to stir anything up, just to point out that it will be a lot easier to reduce GHG by using the previously disturbed areas talked about above. We don’t have to trash the Earth to save her. Instead of fighting, why not use the most environmental alternative? It will work better. I do see an improvement on the attitudes of people in the last year. I am noticing that conservation of desert ecosystems is getting more and more attention.

    Plus, desert ecosystems store carbon and removing them will only speed up climate change:

    Sandy storehouse
    Alicia Newton

    Global Change Biol. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01593.x (2008)

    DOUG DOLDE
    Deserts may be a much more important storehouse for carbon dioxide than previously thought, suggests a new study of the Mojave Desert in the southwestern United States. The retention of atmospheric carbon dioxide in desert soils, which cover more than 30 per cent of the Earth’s surface, is often assumed to be low owing to the characteristic sparse vegetation
    http://www.nature.com/climate/2008/0805/full/climate.2008.34.html

  36. This is our website. It has our perspective on industrial renewable development. It shows the side of desert ecosystem conservation:

    http://www.basinandrangewatch.org

  37. ben says:

    As someone who is both freaking out about global warming and deeply concerned with preservation of wildlands, I’d like to concur with the commenters who offer a more nuanced view of how the two issues overlap. Joe: you’re setting up a false dichotomy. I don’t see how vilifying feinstein over this helps anybody. We conservationists see a ton of new energy infrastructure coming down the pike and we say: well that’s great! now how do we implement it without #$^*ing up these really important ecosystems? can we nudge all this new infrastructure towards already-impacted areas, existing corridors, less vulnerable areas? I’d argue that the fundamental cause of our impending disaster is an extractive approach towards nature; if “renewable” energy just replaces one unsustainable mechanism with another that has a slightly longer functional timeline then we’re missing the point. We can’t manage the entire biosphere. We need to leave what remains of unmolested wildland: it’s our life support. Even desert.