Bipartisan Coalition Opposes Solar Power Farms

Published February 1, 2010

Solar power complexes are on the defensive in the Desert Southwest as key Democrats and Republicans are uniting in opposition.

Feinstein Introduces Conservation Bill
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced a comprehensive desert preservation bill banning solar power complexes on roughly one million acres of the Mojave Desert.

According to Feinstein and many conservation groups, such complexes gravely threaten the endangered desert tortoise and other critical species. Solar power complexes should be restricted to previously developed areas such as interstate highway regions, Feinstein and conservation groups argue.

“I believe the development of these new, cleaner energy sources is vital to addressing climate change, yet we must be careful about selecting where these facilities are located,” Feinstein said in a December 21 press statement.

“We have an obligation to honor our commitment to conserve these lands—and I believe we can still accomplish that goal while also fulfilling California’s commitment to develop a clean energy portfolio,” Feinstein added. “There are many places in the California desert where development and employment are essential and appropriate.  But there are also places that future generations will thank us for setting aside.

Kyl Worries about Water
On the Republican side of the aisle, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is similarly opposing solar power complexes in the Arizona desert.

Solar power facilities deplete far more water from the regional environment than do coal or natural gas power, he notes. Arizona, which already faces extremely limited water supplies, should not be expected to host commercial power facilities that use twice as much water as coal power and four times as much water as natural gas power, argues Kyl.

Local Officials Join Opposition
Local officials are also lining up in opposition to solar power.

San Bernardino County, California, Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt is leading calls for a more thorough environmental review of a solar power project proposed in his home county. Mitzelfelt says the project has undergone only limited environmental review and as it now stands it would create jobs mostly for Nevadans.

BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah Solar Power Complex, with a planned output capacity of 440 megawatts, would be located in San Bernardino County approximately five miles from the California-Nevada border. BrightSource says the six square mile facility will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 450,000 tons annually.

Given the location of the project—about 20 miles south of Las Vegas—Mitzelfelt is concerned the vast majority of the project’s construction jobs will go to workers living in Nevada.

Economic, Environmental Downside
Tom Tanton, a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, says he is “glad that renewable energy projects are at last starting to get a touch of the same level of review as conventional sources. The exaggerated levels of benefits claimed by lobbyists for renewables often pale in comparison to the financial and environmental costs, yet those costs are typically swept under the rug.

“People in San Bernardino know that, in addition to the impact on endangered species in the desert and destruction of vast tracts of land, most of the jobs created by these facilities are temporary construction jobs. Worse, by artificially increasing the cost of power, they reduce our own productivity, which leads to an economic death spiral. Most of the jobs being created … are for overseas manufacturers of the equipment,” he added.

Daniel Simmons, director of state affairs for the Institute for Energy Research, agrees with Tanton’s assessment. “Again we see the folly of government mandates which require the use of politically correct sources of energy like solar power,” Simmons said. “We are told that solar power is ‘green,’ but there are definite downsides to solar electricity—the extra cost, the amount of land, the additional water, and the toxic chemicals necessary to make these technologies work. No source of energy is without downsides, and we shouldn’t forget that.”

Drew Thornley ([email protected]) writes from Texas.