|Ivanpah Solar Energy Facility (from the northwest), April 2014.|
Well, I got the roll developed from the way home, and that revealed I'd taken another photo of it. So, that led me to decide that I needed to learn more about this place.
Through my membership with the California Native Plant Society, I should have been able to figure out that this 1,600-acre facility is one that has been under discussion and debate for some time now. Actually, that particular debate is finished, since the facility, called Ivanpah Solar Energy Facility, is now in operation. But the overall debate continues to intensify.
Renewable energy has been coming face-to-face with conservation in California, especially in the public (BLM) lands of the desert, and CNPS has been trying to give a voice to the ancient plant communities that can be impacted when facilities like this are built on otherwise pristine land. Aside from plants, wildlife such as tortoises, bats, and birds (see articles below) are impacted, studies are showing.
|Ivanpah as viewed out the plane window (from the east/northeast), April 2014.|
When I first heard that California was committed to providing its utility customers up to 33% renewable energy by the year 2020, I was excited. But, through economic incentives to large power companies, the promise of jobs, and the view that solar energy is clean, Ivanpah represents the form it's taking.
We must find ways to generate power in cities, where people need it. We also must find new ways to conserve energy. If we must build large-scale renewable energy plants, let's do it on land that's already disturbed; if done on private land, it can be used to increase the local county's tax base. (An old car sales lot in Albuquerque comes to mind...)
Click here for a closer look at some of the 300,000 mirrors that reflect light to the steam boilers.
Here is an aerial view of the world at night, compiled by our friends at Blue Marble. The map is centered near Las Vegas. This gives one an idea where the power from Ivanpah is going.
Scientific American, August 2014
Solar Farms Threaten Birds
AP, August 2014
Emerging solar plants scorch bird in mid-air
Desert Sun, April 2014
Birds going up in smoke at Ivanpah Solar Project
And finally, an optimistic video from BrightSource Energy released in September 2013:
Ivanpah: a Compilation
What to do about it? A few organizations -- California Native Plant Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and Audubon California, to name a few -- have been taking action. From what I can tell, the main activity in which these groups are engaging is advocacy: suggesting better ways to locate these facilities. However, the Center for Biological Diversity has launched a lawsuit* against the US Department of the Interior for allowing these facilities to operate.
In the meantime, it seems "streamers" will tragically remain part of the Mojave sky.
*note that this action specifically mentions the Yuma Clapper Rail, a federally endangered bird species -- which tells me that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is not powerful enough to make a case for the swallows, warblers, and other birds -- not to mention insects and bats -- impacted by the facility. This attests to the power and value of the Endangered Species Act, but also indicates, to me, someone with little knowledge of law, the weakness of the MBTA.