October 02, 2008
Solar Power Faces Environmentalist Opposition

Not everyone sees solar power as environmentally compatible.What is waste land to one person is a pristine ecosystem to another person.

Solar companies proposing large power plants in the Mojave Desert are facing opposition from conservationists. They say a rush to build solar here threatens to tear up large tracts of desert habitat and open space.

But where do the defenders of an unmolested Mojave come down on the question of nuclear power? It has the smallest footprint of any of the fossil fuels replacements.

The squabble is likely to intensify now that Congress this week moved forward on a long-term extension of the solar tax credit. Two other proposed bills would fast-track solar power projects looking to build on federal lands. State mandates on utilities to provide more renewable energy has created an enormous market for solar, an energy that requires two things the Mojave has in spades – acreage and sunshine. But the desert’s defenders argue that solar panels should be located on city rooftops rather than pristine lands.

One reason we are seeing more large scale solar power projects around Southern California is a state mandate for utilities to get more of their power from renewable sources of energy. This favors large scale solar power over rooftop solar. The rooftop solar also runs into zoning restrictions aimed at beautifying towns. I know people who've had trouble getting approval to put photovoltaics on their roof for example.

I expect the local rooftop zoning restrictions to lessen as prices fall and a larger fraction of homeowners (and voters) want to put PV on their own roofs. But opposition to covering deserts with PV might grow rather than shrink. If PV ever starts paying more per acre than crops (and can it?) then PV won't hit such obstacles in farm country where land has long been thought of as a productive resource.

Some analysts were predicting a double digit decline in PV prices in 2009. But initial indications are for a smaller price decline.

On Aug. 20, Zhengrong Shi, chief executive of Suntech Power Holdings, (STP) said early prices for 2009 are flat to 5% down compared with 2008. Suntech is one of the world's 10 largest solar module makers.

That same week Andrew Klump, Trina Solar's (TSL) vice president of business development, said on the quarterly conference call that the company sees price declines of just 3% to 5% in 2009.

The credit crunch and the question of US solar tax credit extension both are big question marks on 2009 PV demand.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 October 02 07:25 AM  Energy Solar

Jake said at October 2, 2008 9:11 AM:

More proof that nothing is more harmful to the environment than environmentalists.

Nick G said at October 2, 2008 9:31 AM:

No, just proof that environmentalists aren't a single block of people. Many are simply advocates for their local interests, which often conflict with the larger interest.

In this case, the national Sierra club has spoken out strongly for the solar projects, slapping down the small local environmental group that's advocating for desert ecosystems.

Fat Man said at October 2, 2008 9:58 AM:

I have been warning you about this:

"Fat Man said at October 22, 2007 10:36 PM:

Every form of mechanical energy has some downside to it.

The cases against fossil fuel, bio-fuel, and nuclear have been gummed to death. The cases against wind and solar are newer, ...

Solar has not attracted the negative attention that the other sources have because it is still too expensive to be actually used by any substantial number of people. But I look forward to the day that the blind desert pupfish[sic *] makes a reappearance on the public scene to block a proposal to cover a couple of thousand square miles of the Sonoran desert with solar machines."

*Note: Wrong name for the fish. See: "Devils Hole Pupfish, Saved by Court in ’76, Is at Brink in ’08" by Randal C. Archibold in the NYTimes on August 22, 2008.

Fat Man said at October 2, 2008 10:04 AM:

"No, just proof that environmentalists aren't a single block of people. Many are simply advocates for their local interests, which often conflict with the larger interest."

Isn't that convenient. National can always sit with its thumbs in its pockets and say things like "I don't know who those guys are". When it comes to fund raising time they are all blood brothers and @$$#013 buddies.

They (national local and in between) are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem -- indeed they want to be the problem.

A pox on all of their yurts.

Total Solar Energy said at October 3, 2008 6:00 AM:

hmm, it's a tricky one. I can see where they're coming from but i also see the irony of conservationalists trying to stop a solar energy plant

K T Cat said at October 3, 2008 11:33 AM:

I agree with the solar power opponents. Steven den Beste argued quite well years ago against using solar power because of the scaling problem. The amount of land it occupies in relationship to the power it generates makes it a pretty silly idea. It's OK for rooftops where the land was covered already, but for open spaces it's downright ridiculous. Nukes are still the best way to go.

Austin said at October 3, 2008 11:34 AM:

Solar power is a boondoggle.

Someday those solar power collectors will be viewed in the same light as the Easter Island statues.

Seerak said at October 3, 2008 11:37 AM:

Saw this coming. When wind power started showing signs of being actually viable, the enviros turned against it, and the game was up: environmentalism is not so much pro-environment as it is anti-man.

I have learned to loathe the word "pristine".

philw1776 said at October 3, 2008 11:45 AM:

The energy density per square mile of land for solar power is extremely low. Consider a single square mile of 'pristine desert' with a concrete fence patrolled by robotic vehicles containing ALL the US nuclear waste for the next thousand years or more piled up away from the rest of the country. (I've ignored breeder 'recycling' of nuclear waste) Far better use of a single square mile compared to the thousands of square miles needed to power the country via solar. Oh, and the power doesn't shut off at night either.

Bill Sluis said at October 3, 2008 12:08 PM:

It's not about the environment it is about forcing Americans to live a life without energy, without 'evil' materialism and consumerism.The left's target is lifestyle and their diatribes are against energy usage and the accompanying capitalism.Of course they are opposed to solar power, wind power,tidal energy!
Environmentalists are the new Puritans of the modern age, preaching simplicity,communal resource management (see smart growth) and they have joined an international force of backward looking simpletons whose end goals include socialism and police state tactics to achieve their goals. This is the remnant of the now defunct USSR and their long term goal of supplanting America's democratic party with academically inspired socialists.

This is the unexploded land mine of cold war politics and commintern actions.


Mark in Texas said at October 3, 2008 12:27 PM:

The only kind of energy that environmentalists like is from theoretical sources that are not economically viable.

Just look at how ethanol, once an environmentally benign and carbon neutral alternative fuel that was kept from the market by an evil conspiracy between big oil and the Detroit automakers, became the Devil's urine as soon as it became economically profitable to make the stuff.

Environmentalists don't love the earth. They hate people.

j.pickens said at October 3, 2008 1:40 PM:

The real problem is that, except in optimal locations, PV array solar power consumes more energy than it produces.
It is only "economical" to build the plants when subsidies are taken in.
I could build diesel-fired power plants and make more money, if subsidized similarly per watt of power.
There is a reason these polycrystalline arrays cost so much...the energy needed to purify and crystallize the silicon and dopant compounds.
Then, add the support structure, interconnections, etc. and you're a net energy consumer in most locations, like Germany and most of the US.
Spain has much better sunshine coefficient, so there, like in Mohave, you get more energy than it took to build.
But, funny thing, in those optimal locations, it is actually much more efficient to build solar-thermal systems.
And that, in fact, is what is happening.
the parabolic trough solar thermal technology used at Nevada Solar One “provides the best performance and lowest cost of all types of solar power plants.”

ebbe said at October 3, 2008 2:01 PM:

The best power source is to burn environmentalists.

You generate energy while cutting hot air.

Mark Buehner said at October 3, 2008 2:16 PM:

Just one more reason to build space elevators so we can build viable solar collectors in space and send (or beam) the energy down cheap and easy. The next great world changing invention will be the space elevator, its going to make doing anything in space orders of magnitude cheaper. Also a good way to boot nuclear waste into the sun where it will be welcome.

Bart said at October 3, 2008 5:50 PM:

We have only just begun to address the materials, maintenance, and stability properties of space elevators. With so much space junk (and not just junk) in orbit, there is a high probability of collision at some time. This is just another pie-in-the-sky might-be-in-the-distant-future approach to putting off to tomorrow the things we need to do today to secure our energy needs for the here and now.

msr said at October 3, 2008 8:07 PM:

Rooftop solar does nothing for the utilities. As you note, the utilities have a mandate to buy/provide renewable energy. If I put a solar collector on my roof, it almost certainly won't provide more power than is needed to run one residence. So, why would I sell that power to the utility and then buy it back again?

To make this work, our beloved government will need to create the inverse of "subsurface rights". Then, in common, we would all own the space above our houses. All solar energy falling on the Earth is then auctionable by the government, and you only get to use the part the utility doesn't want. Woe be to your lawn.

Brett Bellmore said at October 4, 2008 4:02 AM:

"So, why would I sell that power to the utility and then buy it back again? "

Because it might be cheaper for YOU, (Not the utility!) to sell it during the day, and buy it back at night, rather than buying batteries. The law is an effort to make solar look more cost effective by offloading one of the basic expenses of solar power onto the utilities.

philw1776 said at October 4, 2008 5:50 PM:

"Because it might be cheaper for YOU, (Not the utility!) to sell it during the day, and buy it back at night, rather than buying batteries. The law is an effort to make solar look more cost effective by offloading one of the basic expenses of solar power onto the utilities."

Am I the only one who sees the folly and burecratic mess of such laws. Think of all the lawyers, accountants and burecrats who will make livings out of this, while sucking the life blood out of the econpmy from those who actually PRODUCE usefull goods, innovative designs and services for the economy. Yah, I'm an engineer.

Reality Czech said at October 6, 2008 8:28 AM:
"So, why would I sell that power to the utility and then buy it back again? "

Because it might be cheaper for YOU, (Not the utility!) to sell it during the day, and buy it back at night, rather than buying batteries.

If it was only cheaper for you, the utility's prices would not already be highest in the afternoon and lowest after midnight.

In areas where the highest loads are from A/C peaks, solar can reduce both the amount of other peaking generation required and the amount of transmission hardware. People claiming that solar is not economical are almost never including those cost reductions.

averros said at October 7, 2008 2:05 AM:

Environmentalists, by and large, are watermelons.

Green on outside, red inside.

They would be harmless nutjobs unless the powers that are weren't interested in new ways to fleece us and lord over us. "Protecting the environment" is a good way to justify more of that robbery called taxes and more of that mockery called regulations.

Vans said at July 4, 2011 11:29 PM:

Duffel Bags Shoeses,Bags,you love.

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