One of the main arguments put forth by those opposed to the Ivanpah solar thermal project in California’s Mojave Desert is that the negative environmental impact of the plant would be toogreat. On August 3, a panel of the California Energy Commission (CEC)weighed in.
The panel recommended the five-member CEC approve thethree-part solar thermal project, stating the benefits of the plantwould outweigh any negative impacts to the local environment. We are now in the midst of a 30-day period for public comment before thecommission makes its final decision whether construction may proceed.
If completed, Ivanpah — at 392 megawatts (MW) — would be one of the largest solar thermal plants in the world. According to Brighter Energy, the plant will produce enough energy to power 140,000 homes and improve air quality by taking the equivalent of 70,000 cars off our roads.
A main reason the project gained the panel’s approval is thatBrightSource Energy Inc. — the Oakland, California-based firm that isdeveloping the project — scaled down the total size of the project andrevised its plans to minimize environmental impacts. One such revisionincludes switching from a water-cooling system to an air-cooling system. Water in the desert is, after all, a scarce resource.
John Woolard, President and CEO of BrightSource Energy, had this to say following the CEC panel’s recommendation:
We look forward to a final decision from the Commissionwhen we can begin constructing the Ivanpah project, providing good jobsfor the High Desert community, producing clean energy for the state’shomes and businesses, and creating a model forenvironmentally-responsible energy projects.
According to the Mojave Desert Blog, the environmental impact of the project won’t be zero. You can expectto see the loss of some desert tortoise and other species. To allaythese concerns, BrightSource Energy has agreed to fund land conservation projects elsewhere in the Mojave Desert. The issues involved underscore the interplay between local environmental impacts and the broader issue of climate change.
Amy Davidsen, U.S. Director of the Climate Group, is in favor of theplant because of what it can potentially do to help combat climatechange.
“Large-scale solar technologies provide one of our besthopes for solving the problem of global climate change,” she said. “Tomeet this potential, we need to scale up the use of these technologiesas soon as possible. Today’s proposed decision recommending approval ofthe Ivanpah project represents a major step toward the realization ofthis goal.”
If the commission gives final approval, construction is set to beginthis coming fall, with the San Francisco, California-based engineeringfirm Bechtel heading up the effort. The energy produced will be sold toSouthern California Edison (SCE) and, pending approval, Pacific Gas andElectric (PG&E). SCE gained such approval last Thursday from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
Image: The Ivanpah plant will use mirrors to reflect sunlight ontotowers, which will then produce steam to power a turbine and generateelectricity.