California may be doing more than any other US state so far to reducedependence on fossil fuel energy and emissions. This week California yet again took great strides toward a low-carbon economy, cracking down oncarbon emissions while also moving to ensure fossil fuels are replacedwith renewable power sources. On Thursday as I’ve written previously, the state Air Resources Board approved one of the first cap and tradeprograms for reducing carbon emissions in the United States. But stateregulators also took an important step Wednesday, when the CaliforniaEnergy Commission granted approval to two giant solar thermal power plant projects that would be sited in the desert.
Like other desert regions of the world, the Southwest United States is attracting attention as an ideal placeto locate large solar projects. It’s an especially attractive locationgiven nearby highly populated areas in California, and the Californiastate government’s commitment to creating green jobs while shifting away from fossil fuel energy and emissions. As of this week a total of tennew solar projects capable of generating fifty megawatts or more havebeen approved for construction by the California Energy Commission. Atleast two more such projects are under review.
Taken together, these large solar farms represent Solar Power with acapital "S" and a capital "P." If they are built, it will no longer bepossible to regard solar energy as a cute but uncompetitive resourcerelegated to small clusters of photovoltaic cells fixed to the tops ofbuildings. The largest of the California desert proposals would be ableto produce as much energy as a big coal plant. Nor will California’ssolar future be put on hold by the flawed and misguided argument that "the lights will go out when the sun stops shining." Earlier thisyear the state legislature passed a bill mandating that utilities pursue ways to store the solar energy they generate for long periods.
Of course there’s no guarantee every solar project approved by theCalifornia Energy Commission will finally be completed—or even that itshould be completed. Many of the projects face additional hurdles theymust overcome, and there are legitimate concerns about the locations ofsome. For example the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservationhas argued one big solar project may impact their tribal lands and thehabitat of the imperiled flat-tailed horned lizard. These are factorsthat deserve serious consideration, and it may prove some projects nowon the table turn out not to be viable.
Yet to quibble over the problems confronting individual large solarprojects is to miss the bigger picture. The bottom line is Californiahas become a hot spot for large solar farms that will create hundreds or thousands of jobs while reducing dependence on dirty energy andemissions. Some of these projects are going to be built—whether thefinal tally comes in at seven, ten, or twelve. Both the climate andCalifornia’s economy will be the better off for every low-carbonelectron these plants inject into the grid.