By Ariele Johannson – (San Diego’s East County)–Driving through the southwestern deserts, I’ve long been impressed by the ocotillo, a cactus-like tree with straight branches angling upwards to the sun, ablaze with red blooms. This thorny desert tree is an apt metaphor for the ways different people view energy issues– especially proposed industrial solar and wind power projects in remote wilderness areas. Like the ocotillo, these programs and policies have a wide array of angles from which to be viewed.
A crucial issue for East County, with our back country and Anza Borrego Desert, is the amount of proposed projects on vast, previously protected land. According to Solar Done Right, President Barack Obama’s policy of allowing massive energy projects on public lands is not as effective at producing renewable energy as people going solar at their residences, institutions, and businesses. As well, local small-scale solar generation could be more successful if model programs in other countries are considered.
Solar Done Right is a coalition co-founded by Terry Weiner of the Desert Protective Council and Janine Blaeloch of Western Lands Project. Its members include public land activists, renewable energy researchers, electrical engineering experts, biologists, and others who view with concern the rush to develop our public lands for industrial solar energy and wind energy. Their mission is to urge government, utilities, the mainstream environmental movement, and the public to abandon this destructive path and to work toward generating the power we need in the already built environment.
They currently have the support of more than 50 organizations for their Call to Action for Energy Democracy. Individuals and groups can sign up on the following link: http://solardoneright.org/index.php/news/post/sign_solar_done_rights_call_to_action_for_energy_democracy/
Besides influencing the policies of the Obama Administration, their goal is to get the word out to Californians and people nationwide about local renewable energy alternatives. Their website, http://solardoneright.org
, is a perfect place to go for detailed information on solar and wind issues.The team at Solar Done Right believes in educating and inviting policy makers, representatives of large environmental organizations and influential people, such as Robert Kennedy, Jr., to tour desert areas, rural communities, wilderness, and agricultural lands that are about to be negatively impacted by industrial energy projects. It may be the key to forging our future policies, as important as educating the public.
Some believe this big solar trend is justified due to the threat from global warming. Yet, big solar and wind facilities will require so much ecologically intact land that we will ultimately lose many of the places and wildlife we want to protect from global warming, including habitats that sequester greenhouse gases (GHGs). So far, energy companies have submitted applications to develop almost 230,000 acres, or about 360 square miles, of public land in California alone—the vast majority undeveloped wild lands—for solar and wind projects. These projects would only supply a fraction of our energy needs but would industrialize many of our intact wild lands needlessly.The Desert Protective Council, a grass roots, non-profit educational organization, was founded in 1954 and employs Terry Weiner. Its mission is to safeguard and preserve for this and succeeding generations the scenic, historical, spiritual, natural, cultural and recreational values of the southwest deserts and to educate children and adults to a better understanding of the deserts. The DPC works through education, land stewardship and advocacy.
The group is currently working with the Ocotillo community and other Imperial Valley activists to oppose the proposed Ocotillo Wind Project, which would encompass 12,000 acres. Tom Budlong, intervenor on the Imperial Solar Two project in 2010, has been active in monitoring and photographing the area and camping out near the small towns of Ocotillo and Nomirage in western Imperial County. A group of permanent and part-time residents, and friends from as far away as Santa Rosa, gathered there on Feb 25 and 26 to enjoy the beautiful desert and document the natural resources that would be lost forever if this project is approved.
One of the main features is a forest of Ocotillo plants, some over 25 feet high. Ocotillo Wind hopes to install 112 wind turbines with 300-foot towers and turbine blades reaching 450 feet high. Approximately half of the Ocotillo forest would be removed to make room for the turbines and the wide roads required. Large trucks and cranes move the turbines to the site.
The dedicated individuals and the grass roots organizations they represent hope that policy makers can follow the angles of the future with eyes opened; to the beauty, the importance of the desert ecosystem and its connection with other habitats and wilderness areas. It takes time to appreciate the intricate workings of the desert and its delicate balance. Everyone knows about Yosemite as an American natural treasure, but what about the Colorado, Mojave, Sonoran and Great Basin desert areas? They are also part of our American natural heritage.
Some who aren’t familiar with desert environments don’t see it as useful or life-supporting, so it is easier to dismiss it as an empty, barren place, perfect for industrialization. Nothing could be further from the truth. Desert ecosystems are complex, fragile, and diverse. They are home to thousands of species and hundreds of diverse ecosystems. These lands face a threat from global warming second only to the Arctic, according to the Endangered Species Coalition.
Industrial projects begin with grading and/or mowing the land-sometimes as large an area as ten square miles at a time-to embed the PV panels or mirrors. The percentage of impact with industrial solar is 100%, scraping bare the land. It begins with disturbance of carbon-sequestering soils, which creates dust, erosion, and flooding. Then, it continues with forced relocation of animals, potential for animal diseases, and disrupted migration patterns across large areas.
With regard to economy of scale, some believe larger installations mean power will be cheaper. However, if we look to solar programs in other countries, the research is surprising. It is currently cheaper, on a per-watt basis
, to install a small rooftop system in Germany than it is to install a giant desert installation in the US. Continue reading more…