Clean Power national solar energy plan

Published on November 6th, 2011 | by Andrew


Interior Opening Up 17 Solar Energy Zones Across Six Western States

November 6th, 2011 by  

Map courtesty of US Dept. of Interior, BLM

Looking to streamline and speed up the process of developing the nation’s solar power potential, the US Dept. of Interior took another step towards opening up public land in six Western states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah – to utility-scale solar power projects.

Some 285,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land would be made available, according to the “Supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development” (Solar PEIS), the revised version of a plan originally proposed in December 2010.

The BLM received and reviewed some 80,000 comments on its original plan, as well as obtaining additional data and consulting with cooperating agencies and resource managers, in coming up with the revised version, according to a news release.

The revised plan refines or removes zones that had development constraints, such as lack or difficulty of transmission line access, and resource conflicts, as well as establishing a variance process that would allow “development of well-sited projects outside of solar energy zones on an additional 20 million acres of public land.”

The BLM has made its Solar Energy Zone identification process more transparent in an effort to ensure that they “are located in appropriate areas.” This includes analyzing transmission availability and potential resource conflicts, such as access to water and effects on other use of the public land, such as camping and tourism.

It also describes in detail the incentives offered to developers to locate new projects in the solar energy zones and identifies regional planning processes being used to identify additional areas for solar energy zones.

Publication of the revised Solar PEIS begins a 90-day public comment period, after which the BLM will prepare a Final PEIS and Record of Decision.

More information is available in the BLM’s Solar PEIS Supplement and on the Solar PEIS website.

For more on solar power development on public land, check out:

GOP Committee Chair & Renewable Energy Leaders Call on Obama Administration to Fast-Track Wind & Solar Energy Projects

Renewable Energy Projects Under Pressure from Feds and Environmental Groups

Recovery Act Gets Another Half Gigawatt on the Grid in Nevada

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t taken time to read your linked article in detail. I’ll do that later. But I did zoom down to (3) High and Low Acreage Scenarios. There, they claim 3,500 to 15,000 acres for a thermal solar plant.

    3,500 acres is 5.47 square miles, a square 2.3 miles on each side. That’s an absurd amount of land for the tower and mirror array for a thermal solar plant. Looking at the land use at Ivanhoe I’d guestimate the land used for hardware to be under 100 acres. Add in some more for roads and office space. Solar 1, a trough thermal installation used about 120 acres.

    There is a lot of misinformation on the web and in the press over the size of thermal solar plants. Someone took the total size of the land BrightSource locked up and that has been used incorrectly as the project footprint.

    Look at the illustration on this page. Clearly it’s not 2.3 miles from one side of the array to the other.

    Some large PV farms will be built in the desert, away from coastal fog. PV farms use about 5 acres per MW. A 100MW solar array would take less than one square mile. We’re not going to be using hundreds of thousands of acres for desert PV.

    The lands identified in this article are simple places where solar or wind installations would be acceptable as opposed to national parks, environmentally important areas, etc. There’s absolutely no thought that all these lands would be used. The land has just been ‘zoned’ for appropriate use.

    Actually there is about no scientific evidence concerning health problems caused by wind turbines. We do have some decent data about how far turbines need to be placed from houses, but aside from that not much else. The guy that claimed a wind turbine killed his goats, that didn’t work out for him.

    Your paragraph about cutting down an acre of trees for each acre of desert used makes no sense. Don’t know why you went there.

    Here’s the bottom line. Fossil fuels are destroying our planet. If we don’t stop burning them soon we will make most of the planet uninhabitable for humans.

    Now, how do we replace fossil fuels? Obviously with renewables. And we’re going to have to install those renewable systems some place.

    The task is to find the wind parts of the world and the sunny parts of the world which can be used while causing the least amount of damage to the areas we value for other reasons. The Interior Department has done renewables, and those who care for the environment, a great service by identifying the most and least appropriate places to install wind and solar. That means we can get the job done quicker because we won’t have to litigate every single project due to environmental concerns.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know what the Cnet picture is showing, but it’s not Ivanpah, which is a 400-MW plant spread over 3,500 acres (14 km^2). (A chunk of that is dedicated tortoise habitat.) The mirror array has an area of only 2.3 km^2, but you can’t put them cheek by jowl.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t follow you Bill. You say that Ivanpah is spread over 3,500 acres but the mirror array has an area of 568 acres ( 2.3 km^2).

        Shouldn’t we be talking about the area actually used for power generation and not area that a company might own?

        • Anonymous

          Ivanpah is a three-unit project. Ivanpah 1 & 2 (100 MW each) are each a bit more than one mile on a side; Ivanpah 3 (200 MW) is a bit less than 2 miles on a side.

          The mirrors have to be spaced out or they’ll block each others’ light too much. That means most of the sunlight falls between the mirrors, but acreage of mirrors is expensive while acreage of desert land is cheap.
          You can see that the mirrors only cover a fraction of the ground in the last picture here:

          The number of mirrors on the project website is substantially less than NREL’s: 174k vs 214k. Maybe NREL hasn’t accounted for the reduction of the project due to the tortoise problem.

          • Anonymous

            Right, Bill. Each thermal solar plant is going to use a few hundred acres.
            Now, let’s go back to where all this started… “That is one million acres of land destroyed, destroyed for the profits of huge companies and for the benefit of the dreams of the environmentalist community.”

            My point, we are not likely to build “a million acres” of solar and wind facilities. It would take 2,000 “Ivanpah 1″s to cover a million acres.

          • Anonymous

            The net summer generating capacity in the United States for all sources of electricity in 2009 is listed on the web site as 1,025,400 megawatts. Ivanpah 1 is rated at 100 megawatts capacity. Divide 1,025,400 megawatts by the 100 megawatt capacity of Ivanpah 1 and you get 10,254 Ivanpah 1’s to equal that amount as listed by the EIA.
            Even if you back out of the EIA numbers the existing PV, solar thermal, geothermal, hydro, wind, etc. (non fossil or wood fuel) power sources, my claim of a million acres is well covered even at your minimal estimation of, “Each thermal solar plant is going to use a few hundred acres.”, in your response to Bill.

          • Anonymous

            Why would you divide the net summer generating capacity by only thermal solar plants? And why do you back out only the existing hydro, wind, geothermal, etc. rather than acknowledging that we will most likely build massive amounts of non-thermal solar generation?

            Do you really think we’re going to build a lot of thermal solar?

      • Anonymous

        This appears to be a site map for the Ivanpah projects. Eyeballing Ivanpah 1 I’m guessing that about one square mile (640 acres) has been set aside for the entire project.—FIGURE-1-Ivanpah-Solar-Power-Project—Census-2000

  • Anonymous

    FYI to you folks that attempt to go to the BLM websites linked in the article. It is my understanding that they have been shut down for the weekend for some kind of electrical maintenance.
    Try on Monday, it is a very interesting site… if you can call the destruction of our public lands interesting….

  • Anonymous

    The 285,000 acres is a drop in the bucket. In a separate renewable energy issue from this, the BLM is talking to the California Energy Commission for initial amounts of lands of perhaps one million acres just in California. That is one million acres of land destroyed, destroyed for the profits of huge companies and for the benefit of the dreams of the environmentalist community.
    Yes, alternative energy is a great idea, but those that want to put it on our public lands have their own interests in mind. There are millions of acres of roof tops in this nation which can have solar put on them, but that cuts into the profit of the large corporations and eliminates the land control and acquisition scheme of that part of the environmental community which could end up owning millions of acres of land through a process known as “mitigation” if all this goes through.
    Follow the money, follow the power structure, follow who gets control. We’re being deceived for the benefit of others by destroying our public lands for this effort. If people need jobs, why put them to work destroying something when they could be put to work mounting and wiring solar panels on existing roof tops. Don’t believe that it is not technologically possible to set up large scale roof top systems, it is, there is just not as much money in it for the companies, and the environmental land trust groups can’t get title to millions of acres of land out of the process.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, Bull.

      There is absolutely no way that we are going to utilize “one million acres” in the entire world for solar and wind.

      BrightSource, a very large thermal solar plant, will use about two square miles for the entire operation. We won’t build many thermal solar plants.

      Wind turbines utilize less than 2% of the total area of a wind farm. The other 98+% remains usable for crops, grazing or wildlife.

      For the most part PV solar will go on rooftop and over parking lots and brownfields/landfills. Being close to point of use is a large advantage due to transmission costs.

      If you’re a tool of fossil fuel interests take your alarmist junk back to your fossil fuel friends and tell them you failed.

      If you’re truly an environmentalist then consider what happens to all the desert if we screw the climate and take away the small amount of rainfall that now maintains the flora and fauna of the desert. Consider the Sahara. Consider what happened in Texas this year.

      Like it or not, we’re going to have to break a few eggs in order to not break them all.

      • Anonymous

        Well Bob, I replied to your comments with facts and sources correcting your errors about the size of BrightSource and the effects of wind turbines, and government documentation supporting my comment concerning the million acres. However, when I submitted my comment I got the following message:
        “A moderator needs to approve this comment before it will be published”
        So sit tight and maybe the moderator will let us continue this debate.
        Have a good evening.

  • I thought you guys might like to see this even though it may not be directly related to this article?

    google: KABC fuel cell municipal wastewater treatment plant

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Jeff ! I find it directly related. One of the other problems with all these millions of solar panels is that they shut down when the sun sets just as people are getting home and turning on the lights, cooking food, washing clothes, etc. This power generation is 24/7.

        • Anonymous

          Ok Daniel, Checked out your suggested link. Great argument for dealing with electrical demands of air conditioners during daylight hours and not burning the fossil fuels during those peak daylight times. I’ve been on the East coast in hot summer weather, the AC runs long after the sun sets, just as it does in most climates which get hot. So this is a partial solution to the problem. It’s not perfect as you say. I accept that fact.
          My problem is not with solar energy and its shortcomings, my problem is how and where the generation facilities (solar panels, thermal, etc.) are being located. This is a matter of poor political and social choices being made by those in charge of our Nations public lands and energy needs.

          The environmental community wants these panels as alternatives to fossil fuels, ok, that’s a good call. I am struggling to afford the money to completely unplug my house from both natural gas for heat and fossil fuel generated electricity from the grid, and am currently building an electric vehicle charged only by solar and wind. But in the process, I am using my rooftop, and a couple of existing patio covers for locating the panels. I see the benefits, but I cannot accept the hypocrisy of the environmentalists when they want to destroy our public lands in order to get their renewable energy when there exists sound alternatives like local point of use generation such as rooftops. Especially when the environmentalists turn around and file lawsuits asking for more mitigation lands, due to the damage these facilities cause to the public lands, as compensation to their cause rather than stopping the projects cold and forcing the government to locate the facilities on rooftops in and around the local points of use.
          In any situation, look at who is gaining and what they are gaining before you decide if it’s a good plan or not.


          • Susan Kraemer

            24 hour solar is possible with salt storage. Here’s one I covered in Spain

            but there’s others too. Google Solar Reserve, which is going to be in California.

            As some one who formerly was in the rooftop solar business, one issue with getting enough solar on rooftops is it seems that the better somebody’s roof is to make solar (typical electricity bill in California needs about 200 sq ft facing the sun with no trees or buildings shading it) the more adamantly opposed to solar the inhabitant underneath that perfect roof is. (Conversely, every treehugger in the forest wants solar!)

            Because of this psychological marketing obstacle, I do not believe there is any way we can power this nation off our roofs, (short of taking over that solar “farmland” by eminent domain!) although technically, yes it is very doable. It is just more efficient to get some utility-scale 250 and 500 MW solar projects going in less time.

          • Anonymous

            I’m a little more optimistic, Susan. You were selling a fairly expensive product but solar prices are rapidly falling and should continue to fall to the point where solar is (probably) the cheapest way to produce electricity.
            When PV prices get well below $2/watt installed then south-facing roofs are going to be profit centers. People are going to be able to cover their entire roofs and make some nice money. That’s assuming that regulations are tweaked to see that they get paid the same rate/almost as good a rate as other producers.

            I expect future subdivisions to be designed for optimal rooftop solar. Houses with N/S footprints may well have partial roofs angled toward the south rather than a simple E/W gable pitch.

          • Susan Kraemer

            Good for you, putting up your panels. But try to persuade ten or so of your neighbors to do so too, and come back and let me know how many takers you got. Find out what residential PPAs or leases or PACE funding are available where you live and tell them about them too, if they don’t want to finance through a bank, but just pay for the power, like they do now with their current utility.

          • Anonymous

            Unfortunately you’re correct about the number of people willing to participate, even with the various options available, it is clearly a minority of homeowners. Hopefully this will change over time.
            I’m also considering some type of storage beside batteries. The salt systems work on large scale, but a bit beyond my means.

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