Native Americans Vs. Solar Power

Regulators have approved the construction of 9 large solar power plants in California, but many are facing opposition from local Native American tribes who say that the environmental and cultural impacts were not fully considered.

Todd Woody at Grist writes that the latest lawsuit, which impacts 6 of the 9 sites, follows a lawsuit last week that addresses one in particular:

"The suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in San Diego, follows a lawsuit brought by the Quechan tribe against the Interior Department for approving Tessera Solar's 709-megawatt Imperial Valley solar power station on the Mexican border.

That project would deploy 28,369 solar dishes-each 40 feet high and 38 feet wide-on some 6,000 acres."

Full Story: Native American group sues to block California’s big solar projects



Irvin Dawid's picture

Hard Times for Big Solar in Golden State

Another Grist article, next day, same reporter: Dark days for solar? Huge California project sold off. Looks like the Native Americans may be the least (though still significant) of this emerging industries worries. Tessera Solar, the company subject to the law suit in above article, has been sold "to a little-known company called K Road Power" that "will replace the solar dishes with 750-megawatts' worth of tried-and-true photovoltaic panels and later will add SunCatchers to generate 100 megawatts."

It creates a larger footprint, potentially requiring the permitting process for some agencies to begin anew. The effects are far-reaching as the state's power industry is subject to an ARB regulation requiring 33% renewables by 2020....who ever thought this would be easy?
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Better Solar News

"The mirrors focus the sun on a hydrogen gas-filled Stirling engine suspended over the center of the dish. As the gas heats up and expands, it drives pistons that generate electricity."

That is an untested technology, and it doesn't allow for any storage of energy, as concentrated solar usually does.

Here is some better news from Dec. 22, concentrated solar energy for California with long-term storage and with a cost of only 13 cents per kwh, expected to go down to 10 cents per kwh, less than the current cost of electricity:

SolarReserve Co. has received essential clearances on its first two utility-scale solar projects, offering power after sundown by storing solar-generated energy in reservoirs as molten salt.

The Santa Monica, Calif., company got approval Monday from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management for its 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah, Nev.

Last week, the California Energy Commission approved construction and operation of SolarReserve’s Rice Solar Energy Project, a 150-megawatt generator located near Blythe, in eastern Riverside County, Calif. The project still requires approval of its environmental impact statement by BLM and the Western Area Power Administration, the company said.

The projects have an estimated cost of $650 million to $750 million each and should be under construction in 2011, with completion scheduled for 2013-2014. SolarReserve is seeking Energy Department loan guarantees for both projects. A third project, in Arizona, is under development.

...the projects use mirrors to concentrate solar energy on power towers, heating molten salt inside to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated molten salt is stored in insulated tanks and is called on as needed to produce steam, driving turbine generators.

Electricity from the Nevada project, developed by SolarReserve’s subsidiary, Tonopah Solar Energy LLC, will be sold to NV Energy under a 25-year power purchase agreement. The initial rate will be just over 13 cents per kilowatt-hour ....

As more plants are built, the cost of energy from the projects will decline, Smith said. “We are confident that the overall costs will ultimately be driven down well under 10 cents a kilowatt-hour,” he said. “We believe that is competitive versus adding new generation, including nuclear, clean coal and solar photovoltaic power,” he added. The current average retail price in the Southwest is between 11 and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Charles Siegel

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