Teaching Kids About Solar

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If we’re going to secure aclean energy future, education is key. The more young people know aboutsolar energy, the better. So what can we do to teach kids about solarenergy? Here are some ways you can help out, along with a few examplesof activities that are already underway.

1. Solar schools. An effective way to teach kids about solar energy is to install solarenergy systems at schools. We’re already seeing this trend spreadthroughout the country. Public schools in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey,Pennsylvania and Utah have installed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.Why is solar so popular? A solar energy system saves school districtsmoney on utility bills and can become part of a school’s sciencecurriculum.

2. Solar-powered gadgets. It’s no secret that kids love gadgets. Cell phones, laptops, cameras and any other hand-held, wireless device with a bright electronic screen. Withthe advancement of solar technology, we can now power mostof these things with solar energy. So if you’re looking into buying anytype of gadget for a young person, check to see if there’s asolar-powered version of it.

3. Lead by example. If you have kids and you want to teach them about solar, use it yourselfby making your home a solar home. And while you’re going through theprocess of installing a solar energy system, get them involved. Showthem the panels, let them watch the installation (from the ground ofcourse) and introduce them to the home monitoring system it comes with.After all, it’s an electronic device with lots of interesting buttons.The more they get involved and enjoy the process, the bigger solarenergy advocates they’re likely to become.

4. Science fairs. Whether their destined to be scientists or mathematicians, every elementaryschool child participates in a science fair at least once. So why notthink of a way to help them incorporate solar energy into theirprojects? Anything from trying to build their own panel to a detaileddescription of how an inverter works will do. It’s a good way for astudent to learn about solar energy in detail and give every one oftheir classmates an overview.

Photo credit: Green Heart Institute

Teaching Kids About Solar Power


 

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Camp Pendleton Goes Solar

This afternoon, California’s Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base held aribbon-cutting ceremony to usher in its brand new, 6,000-panel solarphotovoltaic (PV) energy system. The system is expected to generateroughly 2,400 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year. Accordingto 10 News in San Diego, that’s enough to power about 400 homes on the base each year.

The new PV system — funded by federal stimulus dollars — is not thefirst solar power project at the camp. Back in 2005, the NavalFacilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) gave a grant of over $655,000from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to SyskaHennessy  Group Construction Inc. to install a solar energy system andupgrade the lighting at Pendleton’s Marine Corps Air Station.

The base’s newest system is now the largest in San Diego County — acounty widely recognized for its solar energy adoption in the state with the most installed solar energy capacity in the country. It also builds on a larger military theme to adopt more clean energy — and solar in particular — at U.S. bases both at home and abroad.

California’s Camp Pendleton Goes Solar

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Recovery Act Leading to Big Gains in Solar, Other Renewables

In February 2009, the U.S. government passed the American Recoveryand Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – a bill intended to create new jobs andspark economic activity. Roughly $94 billion of the $787 billion act was set aside for invesments in renewable energy.

A new report from SBI Energy, a Maryland-based market research firm, details how ARRA has helped advance the use of clean energy throughout the country:

  • Aided by ARRA investments, the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA)reports that domestic manufacturing capacity for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules is forecasted to grow from less than one GW per year in 2008 to nearly 4 GW per year in 2012.
  • ARRA investments are accelerating the rate of innovation in solarphotovoltaics and according to the CEA, gains could drive down the costs of solar panels by as much as 50 percent over the next five years.
  • U.S. wind power capacity grew 40 percent in 2009 over the prioryear, despite weak economic and investment conditions. In July 2010, the CEA reported that ARRA was responsible for approximately 6 GW of windcapacity installation that might not otherwise have occurred in 2009.
  • An April 2010, the U.S. Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) surveyindicated a 26 percent increase in new projects under development in2009 and concludes that the stimulus funding played an important role in propelling geothermal growth amidst recessionary economic conditions.

Granted, the CEA advises the President and his administration. Thusit’s not entirely surprising the group is highlights the gains achievedunder ARRA. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to argue with the data showinggrowth in renewable energy and green jobs over the course of 2009 and2010. SBI Energy, for its part, estimates that the ARRA solar grantprogram has led to over $13 billion in renewable energy investments andhas led to the construction of more than 650 renewable energy projectsacross the United States.

For more info on the types of projects ARRA helped, check out the following stories and resources on federal grantsmilitary solar installationsenergy efficient appliance rebates and local solar installations. Arguably, ARRA helped the U.S. become one of nine countries worldwide to surpass 250 MW of solar PV by 2010.

Also, you can track ARRA spending here.

New Report Says Recovery Act Leading to Big Gains in Solar, Other Renewables

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Massachusetts Launches New Rebate for Solar Hot Water Systems

Solar hot water heaters should be flying off the shelves inMassachusetts next week, as the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center(MassCEC) will implement a new solar rebate program that will cut the cost of installing a solar hot water heater on a home in half.

The amount of rebate money you can receive from the program forinstalling a residential solar hot water heater varies according tosize. Here’s how it breaks down:

A four-person household would require about 81 square feet of solarhot water panels atop their home. The homeowner would receive a $1,000rebate for such a system. Another $200 would be available if thehomeowner’s system used equipment that’s made in Massachusetts. By nowI’m sure you’ve realized that $1,200 doesn’t cover half the cost of theinstallation. But it does when you combine this new rebate with a30-percent tax credit.

Unlike a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, which produces electricity, a solar hot water system uses the sun’s heat to warm the water used inyour house. How much energy you’ll save with a solar water heaterdepends on the amount of sunlight you get and how many solar collectorsyou install. Generally speaking, a system can meet somewhere in therange of 50 percent to 75 percent of a home’s hot water needs.

If you’re thinking about installing a solar hot water system inMassachusetts, make sure you’re a customer of a utility thatparticipates in MassCEC’s Renewable Energy Trustfund. You’ll be able to figure this out by simply looking at your utilitybill. Participating utility companies charge their utility customers asmall monthly fee so that they can participate in MassCEC’s clean energy programs. As far as we know, the following utilities are participatingin the program: NSTAR, National Grid, Unitil, Western MassachusettsElectric Co. and municipal power companies in Ashburnham, Templeton,Holden, Holyoke and Russell.

MassCEC is already accepting early applications for the rebate, soact now and take full advantage of this latest offer. To learn moreabout the new program and how you can benefit from installing a solarhot water system, check out MassCEC’s webinar and rebate information guide.

Massachusetts Launches New Rebate for Solar Hot Water Systems

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What Happens When You Sell Your Solar Home?

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A rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system is a long-term investment in your property: that the typical warranty on a solar PV panels is 20 to25 years. And can do a lot over the course of two decades, includingchange your address. So what happens to that solar home energy systemwhen you sell your house?

The short answer is that it stays with the house. And, depending onthe market, your solar home may well sell at a premium compared tonon-solar homes. In October of last year, for instance, the NationalRenewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published a study showing that solar homes in San Diego typically sell for 15 percent to20 percent more than homes without rooftop solar systems.

Why the premium for solar? Well, the monthly cost of owning a solarhome is lower than owning a non-solar home. This means more money isavailable for things like, oh, your mortgage payment. Plus, ifelectricity prices increase, the solar panel owner’s savings increase, too. This is because a portion of their electricity usage will be locked into a fixed power rate.

If you’re in the market to buy a home, don’t let the higher price of a home with a rooftop solar system discourage you. You’re getting all ofthe aforementioned benefits and you can apply for an energy efficientmortgage, a program made possible by the U.S. Department of Housing andUrban Development. The mortgage can be as much as 20,000 more than amortgage for a home without a solar PV energy system.

What Happens When You Sell Your Solar Home?

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U.S. Marines to Move Forward with Solar

There have been conflicting reports as to how much the U.S. militarywould benefit from using solar energy. RAND Corporation, for example,has been very candid it its assessment that the U.S. military will notbenefit directly by switching to renewable fuels.

But the Office of Naval Research disagrees. The office says thatusing renewables will extend the amount of time U.S. Marines can conduct its forward operations without having to recharge theirelectronics.When you think about where many of our Marines are today,that’s a huge advantage. It means that the Marines can limit the numberof fuel-carrying convoys they have to send to soldiers in super remoteareas in the Middle East.

U.S. military solar energy

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

That’s not the only benefit. The federal government has set arequirement for the US. military to scale back its energy use by 30percent by 2015. In 2025, a quarter of the military’s power has to comefrom solar energy or other clean fuel sources. What better time to start than now?

In Afghanistan, solar panels are already being used to rechargebatteries. Photovoltaic (PV) battery systems have reduced the use offuel generators by the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines by 0ver 90 percent.

The military’s effort to incorporate more solar energy is taking place at home too. Military bases in Arizona, California and New Jersey have all made efforts to use solar energy to offset some of themilitary’s dirty energy use. The U.S. military is one of the largestconsumers of energy in the entire world, so the switch won’t happen over night. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

U.S. Marines to Move Forward with Solar

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How to Get Your Neighbors to Install Solar

There are plenty of ways to be a good neighbor: pick up the mail when they’re out of town, don’t make too much noise at night, return a lostpet. But we think there’s one tactic that stands above the fray:convince your neighbor, or several neighbors, to install a solar homeenergy system. Here are few ways to turn your neighborhood into a solargeneration hot spot, starting with the most obvious.

1. Install a solar PV system yourself.

Start by practicing what youpreach. It’s going to be hard for you to convince neighbors to install a rooftop solar energy system if your roof is missing one. So install one atop your home before trying to convince others to do so. You’ll savemoney on monthly electric bills and, having already gone through theprocess, you can help your neighbor get the best price, apply for solarenergy incentives and find a trustworthy installer.

2. Show off your system.

Once you’ve installed solar, don’t keep quiet about it. Talk to yourneighbors about the money you’re saving by using solar energy. You maybe familiar with how solar photovoltaic (PV) panels produce energy, butmany folks are not. In fact, the system will look foreign to many people in your area, and you’re probably going to get a lot of questions. Take the time to answer them and demystify solar for them. The more theyknow, the more likely they are to install a solar energy system.

3. Convince the HOA to Install Solar

If you live in an area overseen by a Homeowner’s Association (HOA), youmay need to convince the rest of the HOA that solar panels aren’t scaryor ugly or loud. So present the idea at a meeting and clearly explainwhy the neighborhood should encourage solar. If the HOA is going to bedifficult, you’re going to have to bring out the law books. Ready?They’re called solar access laws. In some states, these laws include provisions that prevent an HOA fromsaying no to solar, including: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware,Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, NorthCarolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. Your HOA may haverestrictions on where and how solar panels may be installed, but itcan’t block you or intentionally delay you from doing so.

Check out the Solar Bill of Rights to see what the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is doing to make installing solar energy easier for everyone.

How to Get Your Neighbors to Install Solar Panels

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How are Electric Cars Related to Solar?

If you’re a regular reader of the GetSolar blog, you’ve probablynoticed that we like to keep you up to speed on the latest electricvehicle (EV) developments. But what do EVs have to do with solar energy, you ask? In short, everything.

If you don’t own a photovoltaic (PV) solar energy system, we’re nottrying to discourage you from from buying an EV. We’d rather see moreEVs than Hummers on the road any day of the week. But, from anenvironmental standpoint, the EV is only as clean as the electricitythat powers it. The fact remains that about half our electricity comesfrom coal, the dirtiest source of energy out there.

An EV does give you the option of running your ride on cleanenergy. That’s why we’re starting to see “solar carports” and othersolar EV charging stations pop up in public places. In October 2010, San Diego, California-based Envision Solar agreed to build solar carports for the new Chevy Volt. In December of last year they really caught on and started popping up coast to coast. What are they? They’re carports equipped with solar PV panels. They keep the cars cool and charge EV’s at the same time.

Elon Musk, Chairman and CEO of Tesla Motors, explained therelationship he sees between solar and EVs when he announced that hiscompany is working on an electric-powered SUV. Among other things, Musk said he wants to help expedite the move from hydrocarbon to solar electric.

We’re starting to see this trend develop, particularly with solarcarports. It’s a trend that we’ll be following into the new year.

What Do Electric Cars Have to Do with Solar Energy?

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SolarCity to Offer Solar Lease Option in Maryland

As SolarCity expands, so too does the number of residential solar installations.

Why? The California-based company offers a 20-year, zero-down solarlease deal to homeowners. Translation: You pay a monthly fixed rate forusing the solar photovoltaic (PV) system atop your house. That ratewon’t fluctuate, like prices of conventional electricity. And eventhough that fee can vary depending on your region, SolarCity claims thesavings you’ll see the very first month you use the system will exceedyour payment.

The program is already in play in California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and, most recently Oregon. Now the company has announced plans to expand eastward.

Beginning in February, SolarCity will offer its solar lease in Maryland, where the state’s energy administration is giving homeowners grants of up to$10,000 at a rate of $0.50/watt (W) to help with the cost of installing a solar PV system.

To boost solar power in Maryland, SolarCity has acquired the solarenergy installation branch of Clean Currents — an independent solarenergy company with an office in the Baltimore area. Soon thereafter,the company plans to venture into the Washington, D.C. market. It’s allan extension of SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive’s belief that people anywherewill install solar, “as long as it won’t cost them an arm and a leg.”

So far, there’s really no reason for SolarCity to believe otherwise. A total of 1,500 communities have bought in to the program so far. We’llkeep an eye on how things shape up on the east coast.

SolarCity to Offer Solar Lease Option to Maryland Homeowners

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What Does Utility Solar Mean for You?

We hear it all the time: “A new solar energy plant has been built.”Or, “A local utility company has entered into a solar power purchaseagreement.” Even, “More solar energy will be added to the electricgrid.” But the bottom line is, how does any of this affect how muchyou’re going to have to pay for solar energy?

First off, it won’t affect the price of installing a solar energysystem. Whether you own a home or business, a utility company buyingsolar power is completely independent from you installing a systemyourself. But utility-scale solar projects can create the opportunity to purchase clean energy from your utility.

If you’ve opened and examined a utility bill in the last, say, tenyears, you may have noticed an option to pay a little more money on topof your utility bill each month for green power.Depending on where youlive, the purchase option may be called “green tags.” This is wherethese new solar energy plants — and other renewable energy projects —come in to play. If you opt for the green power purchase option, yourutility company will charge you a bit more for your electricity. Cleansources of electricity, like wind and solar, are a bit pricier thanconventional sources, like coal, after all.

Tucson Electric Power (TEP) in Arizona is taking its green purchase option a step further. The utility recently built a new solar array and is selling its power to customers in blocks of 150 kilowatt-hours(kWh). The utility adds $3 to the home or business’ monthly utility bill for each block purchased. What makes TEP’s program unique? It’sallowing homeowners to lock in a fixed price for their solar energyblocks, which could save them money if the price of conventionalelectricity goes up in the future.

Keep in mind there’s really no way to make sure that your home isusing clean energy when you pay this extra fee. There’s only a singlepower line, so how do you get the green energy and others don’t? Here’sthe deal. The power you’re getting isn’t any different from that of your neighbor’s. The “green tags” are like certificates that subsidize thecost of adding clean power generation. So the more “green tags”purchased, the more clean energy the utility can add to its grid.

What Does Utility Solar Mean for You?

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Solar Permits Adding Costs and Delays to Projects

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Whenever the discussion of solar cost, the focus is usually on thecost of equipment, like solar panels and inverters. But, according to a recently released report from California solar installation company SunRun, there’s anotherfactor that’s adding up to 30 percent to the solar installation cost:permits. Solar installers across the country are becoming increasinglyfrustrated with different requirements, even between neighboringcounties. So what’s the deal with solar permitting?

In southern California alone, there are roughly 50 differentpermitting offices with different fees and documentation requirementsneeded from installers before they can install solar energy systems onhomes or businesses. In order to keep up with the complex system, solarinstallation companies are having to hire workers just to drive fromoffice to office to pay fees and turn in the correct paperwork. Forexample, Orange County, California installer Verengo Solar Plus has a15-person staff just to carry out these tedious tasks. That adds to thecompany’s overall expenses and, in the end, those expenses are passed on to the home and business owners in the installation price.

SunRun’s study suggests that, as the cost of panels and othermaterials decline, these permitting fees account for more and more ofthe solar installation cost. According to the report, the permittingprocess accounted for 13 percent of the installation price in 2007.Today, that figure has ballooned to 33 percent, and if the trendcontinues, it could account for half of the installation cost within afew years.

In order trim the cost, SunRun’s report offers the following solutions:

  • Prize Program: SunRun is suggesting incentives forbuilding permit offices that standardize their process. Morespecifically, the incentives would reward counties that comply with the Solar American Board of Codes and Standards — a set of permitting standards adopted by the U.S. Energy Department in 2007 under the Solar Energy Technologies Program.
  • Online Integration: The study also calls for a napplication that allows installers to process permit applications online rather than having to do so in person. This would save the companiesmoney on transportation and would likely enable them to trim down thenumber of employees needed to handle permits. In the end, this costreduction measure should be passed down to the home and business owners.
  • Standard Pricing: Perhaps most importantly, SunRunwants a uniform pricing formula to calculate the the cost of a permit.As it currently stands, some counties don’t charge a dime for thepermits. Others use it as a money grab and charge as much as $2,000.

According to the New York Times, a more uniform process would add a $1 billion stimulus to the solarenergy market over the next five years. Coupled with the declining costof parts and labor, solar installations could soon be affordableeverywhere.

Snags in Solar Permitting Add Costs, Delays

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Self-Cleaning Oven Technology Could Turn Sunlight into Hydrogen

No, you didn’t misread the headline. At a time when scientists are giving birth to solar-powered robots, trash-eating raccoons are being chased away from houses by solar animal repellers and surfers in SoCal are catching swells on solar-powered surfboards, this MAY be the strangest breakthrough of them all… MAYBE.

First understand, we’re not exactly talking about setting the oven to 350° and finding freshly baked solar cells in your kitchen 20 minutes later. Rather, we’re referring to the use ofceria — the main metal oxide responsible for the self cleaning oven.Researchers at the California Institute of Technology say they are building a reactor that can turn carbon dioxide and water into fuel by using solar energy.

The California researchers claim the entire thing is based on the reaction of ceria. When the oven-cleaning metalreaches ridiculously high temperatures, it releases oxygen. When itcools down, it absorbs the oxygen. Can you guess how they made thiswork?

The researchers built a two-foot oven,lined it with ceria, and heated the metal with the sun’s rays. Now theceria is releasing oxygen. To cool the metal, the researchers say youcan either add water or carbon dioxide into the reactor-oven to removeoxygen. What’s left? Hydrogen! Now we have the power for the fuel cells.

Clearly, the researchers have a loooong way to go. But it’s kinda crazy to think about: If it does work, a solarreactor has been hiding in our kitchens this entire time!

Self-Cleaning Oven Technology Could Turn Sunlight into Hydrogen

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California Utility Signs Solar Power Contracts

imperial valley

Tuesday brought good news for California in terms of meeting a 2020goal of getting a third of the state’s electricity from renewablesources like solar and wind. 

After a short period of debate, the California Public UtilitiesCommission (CPUC) approved two San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)contracts to purchase more solar energy in the next two to three years.SDG&E is one of California’s three main investor owned utilities(IOUs), serving millions of residential and commercial energy customersthroughout southern California.

The two, 20-year power purchasing agreements (PPAs) entail SDG&Ebuying just under 300 gigawatt-hours of solar energy each year from theCentinela solar project — a $500 million, 130-megawatt (MW), solarphotovoltaic (PV) power plant to be built in Calexico, California, justeast of San Diego. The  Solar Home and Business Journal says SDG&E should start receiving power from the plant in 2014.

SDG&E is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, which is in the processof building the 600 MW Mesquite Solar Plant roughly 40 miles west ofPhoenix, Arizona. When it’s completed,  Sempra plans to use ahigh-voltage transmission line to carry that solar power from theImperial Valley to the San Diego metropolitan area.

There’s another factor at play that’s causing these big moves bySDG&E: the state’s big three IOUs are required to get 20 percent oftheir energy from renewable sources by the end of the 2011 calendaryear. And even though none of them is going to meet the mandate,SDG&E is in last place. By the end of the year, it expects to getonly 14 percent of its energy from clean sources.

The two most recent agreements will certainly help SDG&E. Butthings almost never work as smoothly as they sound when it comes tobuilding plants and transporting energy – just ask Brightsource Energy, developer  of the Ivanpah solar project. The transmission line needed to carry energy to San Diego — called Sunrise Powerlink — has yet to be built. And all indications Sempra is going to have oneheck of a time getting it built. Why? Even though the CPUC and federalbureau of land management (BLM) have signed off on the $1.9 billion,120-mile line, it can’t be built until the Cleveland National ForestOK’s the line running through its land. SDG&E has been waiting for a decision from the group for over a year. Facing a tight timeline, theutility has vowed to begin building the line next month and is workingto secure the land for construction.

The siting of transmission lines — which can span hundreds of milesand cross the land of countless property owners — is a classicallycontentious process. Disagreements over property rights and land useissues abound. On Friday, several groups filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service and number of federal officials, callingSunrise Powerlink a “hastily conceived, poorly studied, wildfireinducing and completely unnecessary transmission line.”

Let’s hope California utilities and opposition groups can get alongso the state can continue leading the country in clean energygeneration.

California Utility Signs Solar Power Contracts, Faces More Opposition

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Conservationists Sue Federal Government Over Ivanpah

It’s been a long, hard road for the Ivanpah Solar Project, a392-megawatt (MW) solar thermal plant to be built in California’s Mojave Desert. In an effort to gain regulatory approval, project developers have scaled back the project’s scope, faced environmental setbacks and had the project opened for public comment.

And when all seemed set for the big solar energy plant to be built, a conservationist group is filing suit against the Federal government inan effort to stop construction — a last-ditch effort from what hasproven to be a resilient opposition movement.

Over the last year, solar development in California's Mojave Desert [pictured above] has become one of the most hotly debated topics in the solar energy sector.

The Western Watersheds Project (WWP) — a non-profit organization that describes its mission as, “to protect and restore western watershedsand wildlife through education, public policy initiativesand litigation” — is alleging that the federal government approved the plant without conductingadequate environmental reviews. Specifically, in asking the court towithdraw the approval of the plant, WWP claims the government did notanalyze the impact on migratory birds, the desert tortoise, desertbighorn sheep, groundwater resources and the desert’s various rareplants.

Lawsuits like these are pretty common whenit comes to large projects being built — particularly on undevelopedland, like the Mojave. Some observers may be surprised by the WPPlawsuit, however, given all steps taken by the project’s developer,BrightSource Energy, to ensure its plans addressed local concerns.BrightSource’s original plan included using dry cooling technology tosave water. But In February 2010 the developer was still catching heatfor its water use.

And this time, conservationists remainconcerned over land use issues and potential damage to the deserttortoise’s habitat. BrightSource responded by making the followingchanges:

  • Reduce the footprint of the third Ivanpah plant by 23 percent
  • Reduce the footprint of the overall Ivanpah project by about 12 percent
  • Reduce expected desert tortoise relocations by approximately 15 percent
  • Avoid the area identified as having the highest rare plant density
  • Reduce overall number of towers at the Ivanpah project from seven to three
  • Reduce the potential maximum number of heliostats by about 40,000

WWP members nevertheless remain unconvinced — hence the lawsuit. Even if they fail to derail the project, it’s likely not the last we’ve seen of WWP’s clean energy opposition. The group has offices in five of thesix states that were recently identified in the federal government’s Draft Solar Programmatic EnvironmentalImpact Statement of December 2010 — a roadmap of sorts detailing themost promising opportunities to develop clean energy projects in thesouthwest.

So, as crazy as it sounds, a conservationist group’s efforts willlikely be the biggest obstacle facing solar energy expansion in thewestern United States.

Conservationists Sue Federal Government Over California Solar Energy Plant

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