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  • A tangled solar-power web...

    A few choice excerpts...
    Desert Vistas vs. Solar Power

    AMBOY, Calif. — Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region...

    ...For Mrs. Feinstein, creation of the Mojave national monuments would make good on a promise by the government a decade ago to protect desert land donated by an environmental group that had acquired the property from the Catellus Development Corporation.

    “The Catellus lands were purchased with nearly $45 million in private funds and $18 million in federal funds and donated to the federal government for the purpose of conservation, and that commitment must be upheld. Period,” Mrs. Feinstein said in a statement...

    ...“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area...

    ...As conflicts over building solar farms in the Mojave escalated earlier this year, Mrs. Feinstein trekked to the desert in April. The senator’s caravan, including the heads of two of the nation’s largest utilities, top energy regulators and a group of environmentalists, bumped along a dirt track and pulled up to a wind-whipped tent. Inside, executives with a Goldman Sachs-owned developer waited to make their case for building two multibillion-dollar solar power plants...

    ...“When we attended the onsite desert meeting with Senator Feinstein, it was clear she was very serious about this,” said Gary Palo, vice president for development with Cogentrix Energy, a solar developer owned by Goldman Sachs. “It would make no sense for us politically or practically to go forward with those projects.”...

    ...Mr. Myers stresses that he is not against large-scale solar power plants but prefers that they be concentrated on already disturbed farmlands. In recent months, he said, he has worked with solar developers to find alternative sites.

    On Thursday, Mrs. Feinstein introduced legislation to provide a 30 percent tax credit to developers that consolidate degraded private land for solar projects. She followed that on Monday with the legislation to create the 941,00-acre Mojave Trails National Monument and the 134,00-acre Sand to Snow National Monument...

    ...Developers and environmentalists say Mrs. Feinstein has modified the monument legislation to address some of their issues. The 2.5 million acres set aside in a draft version of the monument act has been shrunk to around one million acres, allowing at least two projects to proceed. The bill also includes provisions designed to accelerate approval of renewable energy projects on federal land...

    ...“Unfortunately, Senator Feinstein wants to wall off a large part of the desert based on historical land ownership rather than science,” said Marc D. Joseph, a lawyer for California Unions for Reliable Energy. “It seems the wrong approach to where solar should go and where it shouldn’t go.”...
    Hopefully the science isn't in dispute...;)

  • #2
    Re: A tangled solar-power web...

    Last time I checked, a deal is a deal. If the private groups bought the land fair and square and donated it to the state with the understanding that it would be preserved as a monument, then the state should abide by that agreement.
    Solar can be put anywhere the sun shines strong and frequently (heck, I have 2.1kW PV on my own roof), including just outside the preserved area, where the conditions are virtually identical. There is a lot of nasty, hot, bright, cheap, and largely empty arid land in the US Southwest with 98%+ of the solar efficiency found in the Mohave.

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    • #3
      Re: A tangled solar-power web...

      Originally posted by fallout View Post
      Last time I checked, a deal is a deal. If the private groups bought the land fair and square and donated it to the state with the understanding that it would be preserved as a monument, then the state should abide by that agreement...
      Personally, I absolutely agree with that sentiment. And I applaud Senator Feinstein for taking that stand...she's bucking a long history of using public lands for private profit in the USA...

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: A tangled solar-power web...

        “This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area...
        I am a bit curious why the strongly supported option is a committed national monument when the Mojave Desert is rather large. (see attached map)

        It strikes me as surprising that there is no other suitable land to be used. Desert land seems to be empty but in fact is quite fragile and takes centuries to recover so land use needs to be considered carefully.

        All one needs to do is take a flight over the western US and it becomes painfully obvious that lots of empty land is available, from huge dry plateaus to other expanses. It leads one to question whether there is any strong commitment to solar and wind power as far as the government is concerned. I would think there would be huge tracts of land that the government could make available free land for beneficial uses like solar and wind. It leads me to wonder whether the environmental clashes are simply intended to put a poison pill in the solar/wind power development. Or, is there just plain and simple too little money behind alternative energy to make it politically successful against fossil fuel proponents?
        Attached Files

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        • #5
          Re: A tangled solar-power web...

          Originally posted by ggirod View Post
          I am a bit curious why the strongly supported option is a committed national monument when the Mojave Desert is rather large. (see attached map)

          It strikes me as surprising that there is no other suitable land to be used. Desert land seems to be empty but in fact is quite fragile and takes centuries to recover so land use needs to be considered carefully.

          All one needs to do is take a flight over the western US and it becomes painfully obvious that lots of empty land is available, from huge dry plateaus to other expanses. It leads one to question whether there is any strong commitment to solar and wind power as far as the government is concerned. I would think there would be huge tracts of land that the government could make available free land for beneficial uses like solar and wind. It leads me to wonder whether the environmental clashes are simply intended to put a poison pill in the solar/wind power development. Or, is there just plain and simple too little money behind alternative energy to make it politically successful against fossil fuel proponents?
          Why should the US taxpayer make any public land, in the Mojave or anywhere else, available for free to a private enterprise. Would anyone advocate free oil and gas drilling leases on public lands [if anything the lease rates are too low and should be made available only through open auction]. How about free land for nuclear power plants [as opposed to nuclear waste dumps, which always seem to be proposed on public lands]. Free timber rights? Free grazing leases? See that's the problem...the powerful and entrenched interests benefit and the US taxpayer once again ends up finishing last...

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: A tangled solar-power web...

            I have two answers to that excellent question you posed, GRG55.

            One is the ideological answer, and you have already hit on it....there is NO reason public land should be given away to private interests, for private gain. This is an anathema to the very concept of public land in the first place, going all the way back to "the commons" of old Europe. Feudalism should be dead.

            Two is the horrible nasty historical truth, that this is how "business" is and has always been done here in the US. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Weyerhauser, Vanderbilt, etc, all the US industrial age robber barons and cattle kings made their fortunes by essentially stealing publicly owned natural resources and capitalizing on them, be it oil, copper, steel, timber, land for railroads, mineral rights, water rights, grazing rights, etc, often for less than pennies on the dollar thanks to "politics as usual", e.g. the best government you can buy. In short, there is a time honored tradition of such theft and profit, which is why the wealthy and well connected (Goldman Sachs again) expect that such should continue. The former Soviet Union also witnessed a similar, if compressed behavior in the Yeltsin years, as those with connections leveraged them into outright theft of much of the wealth of the nation, creating most of the Bohemian nouveau rich of Russia today.

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            • #7
              Re: A tangled solar-power web...

              Why should the US taxpayer make any public land, in the Mojave or anywhere else, available for free to a private enterprise. Would anyone advocate free oil and gas drilling leases on public lands [if anything the lease rates are too low and should be made available only through open auction]. How about free land for nuclear power plants [as opposed to nuclear waste dumps, which always seem to be proposed on public lands]. Free timber rights? Free grazing leases? See that's the problem...the powerful and entrenched interests benefit and the US taxpayer once again ends up finishing last...
              First, there is a difference between solar/wind development and timber, grazing, and oil leases. Alternative energy development can be permanent, the other uses deplete the land. I agree that oil, timber, and grazing leases are far too cheap.

              But, to answer the question, I guess the wisdom of tradition is why. The railroads were given rights of way to facilitate their construction as a common good. Ditto for electric coops for rural electrification. Both of those cases involved usable land repurposed for the public good. In this case, otherwise unusable land put into service for long term (perpetual) common good makes sense if it leads to shared benefits of infrastructure. In fact, it can be provided free or leased cheaply in return for lower cost electricity. If the land is purchased by developers, it immediately has to produce a return on investment that is paid forever by the citizens of the country. It is paid for again and again at whatever doubling period the interest rate produces. Giving land for infrastructure is one of the few opportunities that does not result in the citizenry being ripped off in perpetuity.

              One of our biggest problems in this nation is the fact that we have forgotten the value of building for the future. Everything is conceived of as perpetual debt instead of durable asset. Cities even sell and lease back their assets for quick cash. Has anybody ever asked the wisdom of THAT?

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                It is a natural human evolutionary trait (and even more so with other animals, who lack the cognitive ability to plan, relying entirely on innate natural "instincts" as a substitute) to discount the future in favor of the present, i.e. a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush. This is more true of modern man, as he is no longer dependent on living in harmony with and part of the natural world and natural cycles, hence planning and preparation for winter now amount to buying gifts on credit and driving to the grocery store, rather than putting away food, making warm clothing, and other future planning. This is why so-called primitive cultures were much more interested in caring for the land longterm, as they saw the need, being intimately connected to it in ways we 'developed' people no longer do. "We borrow the land from our children, not inherit it from our ancestors."

                Future planning is a learned response, children are the least capable (mommy I want that right now), while traditionally our elders were the best at it, having the accumulated wisdom and practice of a lifetime's experiences to draw from. This is why, historically, leaders have traditionally been elders, be it kings, tribal chiefs, shaman, or senators.
                However, there are exceptions. Psychologists and criminologists point out that, for example, drug addicts discount the future in the extreme, willingly performing behaviors guaranteed to be in their worst interests in order to satisfy their immediate needs RIGHT NOW, such as robbing that house in broad daylight to get the cash needed to buy their next fix.
                Modern American society is now heavily biased towards satisfying the short term desires, and almost totally discount future impacts or rewards. Instant gratification and short term profitability are the new mantras.
                Last edited by fallout; 12-23-09, 10:02 AM.

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                • #9
                  Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                  GRG,

                  The story you posted has a longer and more sordid history than even this:

                  http://www.counterpunch.org/trainor12292003.html

                  There's even a literal gold mine possibly involved as opposed to a 'solar' gold mine...

                  Catellus is the second largest private landholder in the western United States with 817,000 acres in California alone. It develops commercial real estate, shopping centers, and housing, and acquired a number of properties on some defunct military bases during the Clinton administration's base closure program. Catellus has also been very active in a number of land swaps, where it exchanged mostly worthless rural properties for prime development land within urban areas, or for land directly adjacent to planned freeways.

                  ...

                  Senator Feinstein has proven very successful in promoting a land-swap project that involves Catellus properties in Southern California. The Senator is very proud of this project and lists it as one of her prime accomplishments on her Congresssional website. This is the Desert Wilderness Protection Act of 1994 (the act was funded with additional legislation sponsored by Senator Feinstein in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 sessions of Congress). Now known as The Desert Wildlands Act, this bill involves the transfer of over 400,000 acres of Catellus land in the Mojave Desert to the federal government to create a natural preserve. Of the $56.5 million purchase price for the Catellus desert properties, $30 million of the money is coming from the U.S. government. while the additional $26.5 million is coming from a non-profit environmental group called The Wildlands Conservancy.

                  ...

                  But a few critics wonder whether this massive land swap was such a great deal for anybody other than Catellus.
                  In a column titled "A Succession of Land Deals" by Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters published in March of 2001, Walters wrote that the Catellus desert swap amounted to a deal where "Catellus walked away with cash and valuable land and gave up virtually nothing of real value. It was a coup for the company's top executive, Nelson Rising." Walters went on to state that the Catellus desert bill bore some similarities to the Headwaters Forest bill in that both were used to appease envirnonmentalists who favored the desert park and wanted to preserve the forest. Senator Feinstein negotiated the half-billion dollar Headwaters deal right before she authored the Desert Wildlands bill.
                  Jeffrey Baird, a computer programmer who works for the County of San Bernardino, says that the whole thing stinks to high heaven. "I believe that non-profits (e.g. The Wildlands Conservancy) masquerading under the cloak of "environmentalism" are being used as vehicles to initiate a series of land purchases/swaps that will ultimately benefit Catellus Corporation and their friends at the expense of John Q. Public." Baird says that Catellus is giving up desert lands that are undevelopable in exchange for lands adjacent to freeways that are well traveled and worth considerably more.
                  Baird pointed out that there seems to be a connection between Catellus Development and The Wildlands Conservancy that constitutes a direct conflict of interest, and says that he fears "that the resulting charitable gift/sales of 'ostensibly appreciated land' are inconsistent with the underlying land values of these properties as determined by the county assessor." Baird says that the assessed values of the land when they are transferred from Catellus ownership to the Wildlands Conservancy increase sharply, as high as 300% in some cases, yielding huge tax benefits to Catellus. Baird has been trying to get a number of investigative agencies to look into the issue without success.
                  Baird also believes that some of the federal land transfers involve public lands that have been illegally transferred to private ownership by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Baird has shown this reporter a series of land parcels with map overlays that seems to establish his contention that the parcels were in fact public lands as little as ten years ago. "I think the whole thing is a money pump," said Baird.
                  In a May 1997 issue of Media ByPass magazine, writer Karen Lee Bixman explored an area of the land swap that made some of Baird's concerns look pale by comparison. In this story titled "The Great Gold Heist: The Desert Wilderness Protection Act," Bixman characterized Senator Dianne Feinstein as "The Modern Jesse James." Exchanging worthless desert land for more viable commercial land alongside interchanges is bad public policy, but swapping worthless land for rich, gold-bearing deposits was also scheduled.
                  Bixman wrote: "the real motivation for the passage of (the Feinstein) bill lies with the special interest groups that would benefit monetarily.Through a complex series of land exchanges, Catellus will receive land that contains some of the richest gold deposits in the world."
                  Part of the Catellus land exchanges in the Mojave included a swap for a decommissioned military base called Chocolate Mountain. Bixman said geologists told her that Chocolate Mountain has deposits worth somewhere between $40-100 billion. Catellus owns the nearby Mesquite mine in the Chocolate Rift zone, which, Bixman wrote, "is one of the ten most profitable mines in the United States and has some of the most profitable gold deposits of any mine in the world."

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                  • #10
                    Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                    The large energy providers are fighting to build huge utilities on public land and then force you to purchase it, the solution is private energy on private land, and a free market to allow each American to feed energy back onto the grid.

                    Call your senator and have them allow citizens to run solar and wind energy back onto the local grid for unlimited credit - that is each citizen should be allowed to act as a utility.

                    Only a few states even allow running your meter backwards and then only up to the cost of energy, not for credit.

                    Otherwise, I am trying to have 2 X 2 foot solar panels glued onto the heads of all illegal immigrants in America. That would generate enough power for 1/3 of all American homes.

                    Put the solar panels on your own roofs and your own property so that you get the benefits and not Goldman Sachs.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                      Originally posted by c1ue View Post
                      GRG,

                      The story you posted has a longer and more sordid history than even this:

                      http://www.counterpunch.org/trainor12292003.html

                      There's even a literal gold mine possibly involved as opposed to a 'solar' gold mine...
                      Amazing. Simply bloody amazing...:rolleyes:

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                        Originally posted by Mullet Man
                        Call your senator and have them allow citizens to run solar and wind energy back onto the local grid for unlimited credit - that is each citizen should be allowed to act as a utility.
                        Again you show your complete lack of economic understanding.

                        Solar power being sent into the grid is useless because it accentuates the peak demand vs. peak supply. What is necessary is to equalize the two.

                        Forcing electric utilities to buy more peak supply electricity just increases costs overall as this extra power will just as likely wind up being lost in transmission, being grounded, or otherwise wasted.

                        Electricity costs including generation and transmission going into a house must be different than electricity prices leaving a house - and the resulting price derived nor grid-wide benefit would not amount to much at all.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                          Originally posted by GRG55 View Post
                          Amazing. Simply bloody amazing...:rolleyes:
                          However an alternative way of looking at this is that the US taxpayer isn't [nor should be?] in the business of developing gold mines or highway gas bars and strip malls...so a swap of commercial land for seemingly "useless" wilderness that can be set aside in perpetuity might make perfectly good public policy. It all depends on the valuations being placed on the assets being swapped...

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                            Originally posted by c1ue View Post
                            Again you show your complete lack of economic understanding.

                            Solar power being sent into the grid is useless because it accentuates the peak demand vs. peak supply. What is necessary is to equalize the two.
                            :confused:
                            Solar will produce electricity in the middle of the day when demand is greatest and just when utility companies need it.

                            [/quote]
                            Forcing electric utilities to buy more peak supply electricity just increases costs overall as this extra power will just as likely wind up being lost in transmission, being grounded, or otherwise wasted.
                            What in the world is this suppose to mean?! Somehow Solar electrons are different then fossil fuel generated electrons?!

                            Electricity costs including generation and transmission going into a house must be different than electricity prices leaving a house - and the resulting price derived nor grid-wide benefit would not amount to much at all.
                            Most states require utilities to purchase electricity from residential solar producers at the same price it sells the electricity. It's a wash for the utility.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: A tangled solar-power web...

                              Originally posted by we_are_toast View Post
                              :confused:
                              Solar will produce electricity in the middle of the day when demand is greatest and just when utility companies need it.


                              What in the world is this suppose to mean?! Somehow Solar electrons are different then fossil fuel generated electrons?!


                              Most states require utilities to purchase electricity from residential solar producers at the same price it sells the electricity. It's a wash for the utility.
                              Can anybody out there tell me how a power company safely isolates parts of the grid if they have to work on it, in a situation where there are numerous residential/private point sources able to feed into the tail end of the system? I've always been curious about that. There must be a solution or they simply wouldn't allow power to be reversed back into the grid.

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