US Government Says No to Solar

I find it hard to believe that the government has ignored the need for solar energy to the extent that it seems surprised that anyone wants to build new solar plants. From the New York Times:

Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.

The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

But the decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.

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I was just bitching about this earlier today - The Economist says "No rubber stamp, not even for alternative energy" but failed to address the exception for tar sands, and the rush to offshore drilling etc. This is just madness. Solar is most productive at peak air-conditioning hours when it's most needed.

If they're worried about the effect on desert fauna, I can promise them the biggest problem would be having to shoo the desert fauna out from the shade of the mirrors to service them. Desert critters spend half their time looking for shade. They'd love a mirror farm.

It seems to me that the environmental impact of solar power installations is largely reversible - just pack up the panels (and associated hardware, of course), and unless the installation was in an exquisitely sensitive ecosystem, everything goes back pretty much the way it was. I'm not too familiar with how such things work down there in those United States, but isn't there already an existing system for environmental impacts of various building projects that ought to easily cover solar plants?

Desert critters spend half their time looking for shade. They'd love a mirror farm.

LOL! Reminds me of the problem wildlife researchers sometimes have in Africa, where they don't dare move their Land Rovers because there's a cheetah underneath, keeping out of the sun. Or the photo I saw recently of a pride of lions that had wandered onto an airstrip and taken up every available square inch of the shade under the wing of a small plane.

By themadlolscientist (not verified) on 30 Jun 2008 #permalink

The impacts are real, and probably greater than you guys are estimating. Foundations, roads, power lines are all involved. Power lines look benign when you see them but I've don't EIS work on power lines of all sizes and they are potentially more damaging than pipelines to put in, roughly equivalent to roads. A lot of the damage is not necessarily in the thing that is there (the solar panels) but the trucks and construction, etc. for installation and maintenance.

Having said that, right, these are not strip mines or drilling platforms, and yes, of course there is a system for doing this, and I would have thought that the DOE and Interior would have been eying sites for the last 10 years given the obviously coming fuel crisis that we are now in. I mean, everybody with two neurons to rub together saw this coming.

Of course everything we do, especially something that produces energy on such a scale, would have an impact on the environment. The thing to be done here is weight that impact against say, the impact of producing the same power from coal or oil. I'd say it's orders of magnitude smaller.
But then again, so are the donations politicians got from the alternative power industry.

I'm rather suspicious as to why they're so dead-set on "doing the right thing" environmentally for this, when they don't seem to give a damn about the environment when it comes to other things.

Paladin: Essentially, this is probably true, but one large feature of the impact studies is the on site impact. Wind seems to have very low environmental impact than coal, but building a wind farm with the same output as a coal farm can have a larger impact on the site, if you are looking to damage to natural resources in situ or archaeological sites.

But yes, this whole thing is utter bullshit.

Perhaps our next Secretary of State will have a solar farm named after him/her.

By Virgil Samms (not verified) on 01 Jul 2008 #permalink