The Most Anti-Solar Reporter In The Mainstream Media?

P1291075by RL Miller, via Daily Kos

Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times has published yet another anti-solar piece in the Los Angeles Times. This time, in Solar power plants burden the counties that host them, she discovers that sprawling rural counties that vote Republican would like more money from the federal government, please, and it’s all the fault of Big Solar. And when a sprawling rural county that votes Republican tries to tax just the solar industry alone, solar advocates organize opposition to a Sun Tax.

The horrors!

Among other journalistic nuggets, she reports that construction workers laboring near the California-Nevada state line are more likely to spend their money in Nevada (i.e., Las Vegas) than in the middle of California’s Empty Quarter. Because Joshua trees don’t take ATMs.

And she indulges Republicans opposed to the Obama administration’s treatment of renewable energy:

“The solar companies are the beneficiaries of huge government loans, tax credits and, most critically for me, property tax exemptions, at the expense of taxpayers,” said county Supervisor John Benoit, referring to a variety of taxpayer-supported loans and grants available to large solar projects as part of the Obama administration’s renewable energy initiative. “I came to the conclusion that my taxpayers need to get something back.”

Republican John Benoit, shorter: If they’re going to get special treats, I want a cut.

Among Benoit’s recent campaign contributors: Occidental Petroleum, California Independent Petroleum Association, Chevron, Valero Energy… but no solar folk. (That information is not in Julie Cart’s story. I did the research.)

Also missing from Cart’s story is any sort of perspective or critical analysis. If a plant will end up with only five permanent workers, then how accurate is the county’s claims of wear and tear on its roads and increased emergency room services?

Julie Cart has been assigned to the California desert solar beat for several years. Anyone whining about Big Solar finds her writing a sympathetic story.

Her reporting that Taxpayers, ratepayers will fund solar plants was widely criticized as getting the facts wrong, very wrong.

In Environmentalists feeling burned by rush to build big solar projects, every single small desert-tortoise-loving green group whines that the Sierra Club and other big green groups think stopping climate change is more important than saving the habitat of the desert tortoise.

In Sacrificing the desert to save the earth, she decides that a big plant taking up six square miles of California desert constitutes a sacrifice of the entire region, never mind the 50 million acres of public lands available to fossil fuel developers, never mind the relatively small footprints of all of the solar projects put together, and never mind the vast desert habitat being protected from solar development.

Land speculators see silver lining in solar projects bemoans the fact that some people are getting rich selling virtually worthless pieces of private land to solar developers. Other pieces by the same reporter bemoan the use of public land for solar development.

The Los Angeles Times is effectively the national paper of record for the California desert. I’ve searched the Los Angeles Times site for all 170 stories written by her (many on unrelated topics) and reviewed them all. All of her solar stories portray the solar industry in a bad light. As only one example, today’s story could – but doesn’t – note the negative impacts of climate change on Riverside and Inyo counties, the health burdens of relying on existing dirty energy, whether Inyo County’s worries about the impact of Big Solar on its roads is overblown, whether Riverside County Supervisor Benoit is motivated by Big Oil contributions when he proposes a solar tax (see my research above), and many other angles. The Times has other good reporters who cover environmental and climate issues, but it’s woefully understaffed.

The Los Angeles Times in a nutshell: no appetite for covering a dramatically warmer world in this century, but front page headlines for the impact of Big Solar on Inyo County’s tax revenues.

RL Miller is an attorney and environment blogger with Climate Hawks. This piece was originally published at Daily Kos and was reprinted with permission by the author.

20 Responses to The Most Anti-Solar Reporter In The Mainstream Media?

  1. Bob M says:


    LA Times articles featuring climate change:

    There is nothing factually inaccurate in the Times’ story, and it’s time to stop putting lipstick on the utility-scale solar pig. As the climate goes to hell in a handbasket, these billions would be better spent promoting residential solar or (heaven-forbid!) research on safe, thorium-cycle nuclear energy.

    More wasted time and money.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Good piece, thanks. The LA Times’ coverage of solar has been terrible for a long time, but the blame belongs with the owners, the right wing Tribune Corp, barely better than Murdoch. Julie Cart is just another shill who found a way to make a living by making up fake scandals, as well as facts.

    You won’t see a Times expose about coal power sent to LADWP from the giant and outdated Black Mesa or Navajo plants in Arizona. Externalities include ozone, SOx, NOx, mercury, and smoke, all inhaled by desert dwellers and people in Phoenix, too.

    Utility scale solar is the single best thing we could do to save the planet. It’s cheaper than rooftops (and, with storage, available 24/7), unlimited, and clean. The entire US could be powered with about 9 million acres of the Mojave. Few joshua trees (as pictured) would be cut down, since they are in choppy, higher elevation sites. The best solar sites are flat hardpan, which harbors little life.

    Enviros in the desert are fakes, and are mixed up with the coal and gas companies. They are hysterical and ill informed. I lived in the Mojave, went to the meetings, and never saw any of them in my many hikes in the local wild areas. Their opposition is so relentless, and so dishonest, that the rat smell is obvious.

    We are in a serious war with the fossil fuel companies. It’s time to start to put up a fight.

  3. Valkyrie says:

    Mr. Miller’s “Kill it to save it” mentality is not appreciated by environmentalists that value the Mojave Desert. Why should rural regions and natural sites be sacrificed for urban populations? A significant percentage of electricity produced now goes to fuel technological devices. As a resident of the rural fringe, I resent the destruction of the landscape I love for meaningless cellphone conversations and yet more human conveniences in this consumer culture. Why not focus on population control and growth limitation? At some point humankind will acknowledge the concept of limits, whether willingly or involuntarily.

  4. I think you’re right that the best thing the US can do is to solarize, and overall the best way to do that is with centralized concentrated solar power (CSP) with molten salt backup in the desert. CSP is superior to PV in several ways, the most important being that it produces electricity 24/7. Also, it isn’t made with nasty chemicals, It doesn’t have to be replaced and disposed of in 20 years and I think — I’ll do the research soon to find out — that its footprint-to-kilowatts-produced ratio is quite a bit better than that of PV.

    I still think we need distributed renewables to create an entirely robust grid, but the bulk of our power should come from centralized CSP.

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    Bob M wants to redirect resources from deploying today’s powerful, mature, utility-scale solar energy technologies into “research on safe, thorium-cycle nuclear energy”.

    You might just as well invest the money in the new series of “Star Wars” sequels, since you apparently prefer science fiction to reality.

  6. Anne says:

    Excellent piece. When I was with SEIA and later with the MD chapter, there was always a fringe element that poo-poo’d solar energy, usually the same types that whined about wind turbines and birds. I’d hoped the naysayers were a dying breed but they seem to be reproducing still, sigh. (Nice to be back-to-back with you here on CP today as well!)

  7. Bob M says:

    The reality is that Germany’s utility solar fiction has been a disaster. German utility rates are the highest in the EU, and even with 20% renewable energy German carbon output per kWh generated rose in 2011. Unable to create its own energy the country has moved from being an energy exporter to importer. Where does its imported energy come from? Much of it from nuclear facilities in France and Austria.

    It’s unfortunate that well-meaning people who don’t know any better are helping to destroy the planet. Thorium-cycle energy is a proven technology, and unlike utility solar has the potential to make a significant, lasting difference in fighting climate change.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Over here the focus of astroturfing is opposition to wind power, where the Right, led by Murdoch’s ‘The Australian’ and its so-called ‘Environmental Editor’ (a title straight from The Ministry of Truth)have concocted an epidemic of hideous disease caused by ‘infrasound’ from wind turbines. The campaign has fomented mass hysteria from land-owners who missed out on the pecuniary benefits of having wind turbines on their land (mysteriously the disease does not affect those paid for it)and a ready response from Rightwing state regimes in restricting wind power (while pushing brown coal, the greatest CO2 source known). And, you can bet your life, if utility-scale solar took off, a new ‘syndrome’ would be invented to attack it. The ‘feed-in tariff’ for domestic solar is being wound back by these state regimes as it is.

  9. Francis says:

    Hmm, I guess we’ve been reading completely different stories then. Actually (I believe even ThinkProgress reported it) Germany EXPORTED electricity TO FRANCE during the winter months: Germany had solar energy aplenty evennin winter while nuclear France fell short!

    The utility charges in part may be due to the very advanced state of their technology but a major part is simply the big power companies trying to rake in extra money they fear losing to solar power! Their greedyness is an important reason of the popularity of solar panels on private properties in Germany!

  10. squidboy6 says:

    The LA Times is a record of distortion which is a shame since they were once one of the best papers in the US. It’s really no better than the Hollywood Reporter now and HR is probably more objective than LAT.

    In San Diego County there’s some opposition to solar projects in the desert and a push to do rooftop solar instead but the opposition is to the transmission wires, mostly, that have to pass through sensitive areas like Anza-Borrego Desert but not to the facilities themselves.

    Places like El Centro in the Imperial Valley are mostly desert lands converted to farmland through irrigation which is competing with urban growth now, and the farms are losing the water.

    Most people who get solar on their rooftops won’t install batteries so they won’t get the benefits of having their own systems. The desert systems are going to be built sooner or later. I’d like to see rooftop solar but the big bucks want centralized systems.

    One guy in North Carolina commented in the NYT the other day that solar won’t power a steel industry which goes to show a lack of imagination. I’ll bet the Chinese figure out how to make it work, but even so solar and wind will power millions of homes.

  11. Bob M says:

    Forget all the other misinformation. The statement, “Enviros in the desert are fakes” is so divorced from reality that it’s clear the time has come to designate solar energy a religion.

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    I owned a house and worked in Yucca Valley for years, and stand by my claim, Bob M. They packed public meetings and chanted away, not even knowing where the proposed solar sites were being located. They looked like they were recruited out of a 29 Palms bar.

    The biggest threat to the desert is global warming, which will cause the disappearance of the tortoise and much else if we let this happen. If it does, it will be thanks to people like you, who oppose renewable energy.

  13. AlC says:

    Mike, I can’t speak to the issue of the people you saw at public meetings, but I do know of sincere desert activists who are concerned about industrial solar in the desert.
    I don’t necessarily agree with them.
    There was, however, a paper published (in Science?) that seemed to document that there was significant carbon sequestered in virgin desert soil and subsoil which could be released by construction, enough to exceed energy production by solar for a number of years.

  14. AlC says:

    From what I have read, thorium-cycle energy is still very much in the research category. For All-Of-The-Above, it definitely should be a high priority for further research, and developed if it seems to be feasible and as safe as proponents say. Solar, on the other hand, is current technology. As is wind.

  15. squidboy6 says:

    None of the deserts in Southern California that I’ve visited have significant carbon stores and most of the soils are too loose to stay put for significant periods of time. Current levels of growth will not capture carbon either.

    When I googled the phrase “significant carbon sequestered in virgin desert soil and subsoil and Science” I found a lot of papers explaining tests to store carbon in farmed land and comparisons but I doubt that disturbed soils in the deserts will release more carbon than would be offset against using panels instead of fossil fuels.

  16. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I agree about our disgustingly wasteful societies but even if there were easy ways to fix that and limit population growth, they wouldn’t come close to achieving the rate of change we need. I call a desert home too and will willingly sacrifice some of it to the collective cause. I’ve already watched large patches of it mined and otherwise damaged in other various ways for no good purposes. The limits have already been breached and all we can do now is make good as best we can, ME

  17. quokka says:

    @Mike Roddy

    The biggest threat to the desert is global warming, which will cause the disappearance of the tortoise and much else if we let this happen. If it does, it will be thanks to people like you, who oppose renewable energy.

    Which of course also applies equally if not more so to those who oppose expanded or even continued nuclear energy.

    The scale of the emissions problem is so vast (and growing with no obvious end in sight) that failure to employ all tools in the box is virtually certain to guarantee failure. Furthermore, all tools are not equal, especially as regards capacity factor and reliability.

  18. Jay Alt says:

    I’ve read alot of the LAT tortoise vs solar coverage through the years. Sometimes it seemed unbalanced, sometimes it was just frustrating that a new barrier appeared.
    . . .But no one has addressed what seem to be legitimate complaints. Wind farms can be popular with landowners, farmers and ranchers. Coincidentally, they receive a steady income stream. Local governments also seem to like wind farms, one near me recently was in the news because their property tax will go toward a rural school district.
    . . .Did those who devised the CA solar process forget such lessons or did they deliberately leave out the locals? I can see why a rural county isn’t excited about a few mirror cleaning jobs after paying millions to install new roads.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Julie Cart? ‘D’Oyly Carte’ more like!

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    If it helps save humanity, then it must be permissible. In any case, if we work out how to humanely downsize consumption, then it will be a temporary measure, easily reversed at some future time. Of course, you are correct that it will be a travesty if it just powers more mindless consumption and neoplastic economic growth.