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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 12:44 PM
Original message
Solar Power Development in US Southwest Could Threaten Wildlife
http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/111209_solar_power_development_in_us_southwest_could_threaten_wildlife.html

Solar Power Development in US Southwest Could Threaten Wildlife

December 2011

http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/resources/current-press-release.pdf">Read the full article (PDF)

Government agencies are considering scores of applications to develop utility-scale solar power installations in the desert Southwest of the United States, but too little is known to judge their likely effects on wildlife, according to an article published in the December 2011 issue of BioScience. Although solar power is often seen as a "green" energy technology, available information suggests a worrisome range of possible impacts. These concern wildlife biologists because the region is a hotspot of biodiversity and includes many endangered or protected species, notably Agassiz's desert tortoise. It and another tortoise, Morafka's, dig burrows that shelter many other organisms.

The article, by Jeffrey E. Lovich and Joshua R. Ennen of the US Geological Survey's Southwest Biological Science Center, notes that solar energy facilities are poised for rapid development and could cover hundreds of thousands of hectares. Assessments of their effects should count both onsite and offsite effects and include construction and decommissioning as well as the operational phase, the authors point out. Yet there are to date almost no peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of solar installations specifically.

The authors' initial attempt to catalogue the foreseeable effects draws attention to habitat fragmentation caused by roads and power lines, which could restrict gene flow, as well as the production of large amounts of dust through ground-disturbance. Solar plants are also expected to release pollutants such as dust suppressants, rust suppressants, and antifreeze, both in routine operation as well as through spills. They will predictably generate heat, electromagnetic fields, noise, polarized light, and will possibly ignite fires. Evaporative ponds, which concentrate toxins, may be used and are a recognized hazard to wildlife. Because wet-cooled turbines need to be supplied with large amounts of water, developers are leaning toward using dry-cooled turbines, but these have a larger "footprint" than wet-cooled ones.

The dearth of reliable information indicates an urgent need for careful, controlled, pre- and post-construction studies of the effects of solar power plants in the Southwest, Lovich and Ennen argue. Such studies could attempt to determine information that is useful for optimally siting the plants, such as whether damage is minimized if they are concentrated in a few places or dispersed, as well as suggest preferred locations and mitigation possibilities.

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FBaggins Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 12:54 PM
Response to Original message
1. More than the alternatives?
Mankind has an impact on her environment (locally and globally).

Is "wildlife" in general threatened more by solar power than by the alternatives?
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Bob Wallace Donating Member (132 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 01:02 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Yep...
Keep burning fossil fuels and all that wildlife and flora will have to pack up and move north.

I absolutely agree that we need to minimize our impact, but continuing to burn coal rather than use a very, very small percentage of desert for solar and put some wind turbines on our windy ridges will cause far, far more environmental damage.

(Realistically, we aren't likely to use as much desert for solar as some like to imagine. The price of PV solar has fallen so rapidly that thermal solar is not so attractive any longer. It's better to put the PV on top of buildings and over parking lots/brown fields/landfills in order to reduce transmission costs.)
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 01:06 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. FWIW: Im all in favor of south-western solar farms
However, I feel its important to consider pros and cons.
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Bob Wallace Donating Member (132 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 03:18 PM
Response to Reply #3
7. Agreed...
But this article makes it sound like the pros and cons aren't already being considered.

We've determined where projects might be located and restricted other parts of the desert. We've got all sorts of protections in place for flora and fauna.

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msongs Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 01:08 PM
Response to Original message
4. simple solution - put solar on home rooftops instead of corporate theft mega sites nt
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hunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 01:54 PM
Response to Original message
5. There's plenty of land that's already been trashed.
Put the solar there, above parking lots, on old strip mines, etc., etc.

Leave the undeveloped desert alone!
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Bob Wallace Donating Member (132 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 03:15 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. Transmission...
The siting for thermal solar (and desert PV farms) takes into account existing transmission lines. Building new transmission is expensive.

The most important parts of the desert were taken out of consideration. The amount of desert that is likely to be used is tiny.

We should be more concerned about purely destructive uses such as off-roaders and about what happens if we let the plant heat to the point where these areas experience even hotter temperatures and even lower rainfalls.

We're absolutely not considering anything like a 50% use of desert land, but consider the decision we would face were that the only way to avoid runaway temperatures. Would it make sense to sacrifice 50% of the desert in order to avoid 100% of the desert from turning into empty stretches of sand?
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hunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 03:56 PM
Response to Reply #6
9. Show me a coal plant that's been shut down by solar...
It hasn't happened, and it won't happen.

The way to shut down coal plants is to shut them down. It's like quitting smoking. You quit smoking by not smoking. You quit coal by quitting coal.

I'm 100% anti development.

We ought to be restoring and moving out of many lands we've already messed up.

Humans have taken more than enough land than we need to support a comfortable life for everyone. It's time to start giving land back to nature by decreasing energy use and increasing the population density and energy efficiency of existing towns and cities.

Let the suburbs and strip malls die, quit subsidizing the most destructive forms of agriculture, tear down dams and highways.

That's the brighter future.

Always taking more, more land, more energy, more natural resources, that's what got us into this mess. That's probably what will kill this civilization.
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Bob Wallace Donating Member (132 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 04:32 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. Coal has been shut down by wind...
Solar is still too small a portion of our grid to have plant-closing effects, but it will happen. The price of solar has fallen at an incredible rate over the last few years. Solar installations are booming.

You could just close coal plants. And shut down the economy.

We need practical solutions to our problems. And there are zero 'wave a magic wand and make it happen now' solutions.

Your solution could work. Shut the coal plants, abandon the 'burbs, tear down everything except cities and pack everyone in cheek to jowl. But it would only work if people would allow it to, and people are not going to accept that sort of drastic approach.



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hunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 05:51 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. You act like we'll have a choice.
We won't. We can exit this crumbling economy in an orderly fashion, we can panic, we can build giant Easter Island Monuments, we can do whatever we want, but the economy we grew up with is never going to fly again. It was entirely dependent upon cheap fossil fuels and a dependable climate. Well, we used up the cheap fossil fuels and we disrupted the climate.

Solar won't replace coal. We'll simply use less energy because we won't be making enough money to pay for air conditioning, or to transport water through the deserts, or to buy gasoline to commute long distances to work.

People leave places because they have to. People will quit high energy lifestyles because they have to. People will quit driving because they have to.

At the moment we see affluent people buying into solar schemes. I think it will always be that way. Everyone else will simply get by with less.

Tearing up undeveloped desert won't improve the overall situation so let's just leave it alone. We've done plenty enough damage already.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_island
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 05:55 PM
Response to Reply #12
13. "At the moment we see affluent people buying into solar schemes" = Bullpuckey
Solar For the 99%? Two Thirds of California Solar Installs Are in Median-Income Zip Codes
By Stephen Lacey, Climate Progress
November 18, 2011

Think solar is only for the 1%? Not so fast. New data from California shows that two thirds of solar PV installations from 2009 to 2011 were in zip codes with median household incomes between $40,000 and $84,000, according to analysis from PV Solar Report and SunRun.

Solar PV is often criticized as an eco-chic technology only available for the richest, most fashionable greenies. Of course, if youve followed the solar industry (or invested in a system of your own), you know that is not true.



Yes, the upfront costs of investing in a system can still be prohibitive, particularly in states without good incentive programs. But the falling cost of equipment combined with innovative solar services and group purchasing programs can actually make solar energy cheaper than grid-based electricity in some states.

The installation trends in the industry the emergence of point-of-sale financing, growth in plug-and-play systems, dramatic improvements in hardware and electronics, and better installation techniques are making the technology accessible to a wide range of consumers....

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/11/solar-for-the-99-two-thirds-of-california-solar-installs-are-in-median-income-zip-codes?cmpid=SolarNL-Tuesday-November22-2011
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FBaggins Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 07:46 PM
Response to Reply #13
15. It's certainly more than just the affluent, but the story you link is deceptive
"two thirds of solar PV installations from 2009 to 2011 were in zip codes with median household incomes between $40,000 and $84,000" is a highly deceptive statistic. There are tax credits involved in many cases, so presumably there's data on actual average income of people who purchase solar... so why go with the median income for the zip code?

One thing they're ignoring is that many solar installations these days are by LLCs that sell the homeowner on a zero-risk proposition. Install the solar panels on your home at no cost to you and we'll sell you the power from them at below-market rates. But when the panels are finally paid for (however many years in the future) the homeowner is still buying the power and the corporation is reaping the profits.

So sure, the PV installation is on a home in a middle-class neighborhood, but the real owner is a corporation owned quite possibly by the 1%.
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Bob Wallace Donating Member (132 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 08:30 PM
Response to Reply #15
16. History, don't get too hung up on it....
Yes, solar panels used to be expensive and only people with plenty of loose change could install them.

But prices are rapidly falling and the entry level costs are allowing people with less income to install.

We really do need a 'rent to own' type lease for people with little money to invest. That would be a good community service for someone to offer.

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dtexdem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 03:43 PM
Response to Original message
8. And the important modifier here is "utility scale."
Solar powering house and building roofs and other built environment would have much less impact on wildlife.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 04:07 PM
Response to Reply #8
10. New Jersey's utility scale solar program is one of the most sucessful in the nation
It is virtually all on rooftops.

Utility scale doesn't mean what you think it means.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-09-11 06:31 PM
Response to Original message
14. Scientific Literature Review Finds Opportunities for More Research on Solar Energy Development and
http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3051&from=rss_home

Scientific Literature Review Finds Opportunities for More Research on Solar Energy Development and Impacts to Wildlife

Released: 12/9/2011 1:00:00 PM



In their literature review, the authors of the paper, USGS scientist Jeffrey Lovich and Maryville College scientist Joshua Ennen, found that out of all the scientific papers they examined, going back well before the 1980s, only one peer-reviewed study addressed the direct impacts of large-scale solar energy development and operations on any kind of wildlife. Peer-reviewed studies are those that have been reviewed by experts in the same field of study and are then published in scientific journals.



"The dearth of peer-reviewed studies, as shown by the USGS review, can happen whenever society rapidly embarks on major undertakings, such as developing large-scale solar projects," explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. "Our goal is to raise the visibility and accessibility of information of impacts of solar energy impacts on wildlife as these important projects move forward."

According to Lovich and Ennen, these studies are particularly important in sensitive habitats such as the desert Southwest with its wildlife diversity and fragile arid desert lands. "For example," said Lovich, "the desert tortoise is an ecological engineer whose burrows provide much-needed shelter for many other desert species. Yet large areas of habitat occupied by Agassiz's desert tortoise and some other at-risk species have potential for large-scale solar-energy developments."

The review paper findings can help the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies charged with solar siting, development, and operational responsibilities to identify, prioritize, and resolve information gaps relative to development and operational impacts to wildlife, and direct monitoring efforts.

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