Monday, March 7, 2011

Planned Utility Scale Solar: A Big, Greedy Mistake?

I just finished reading a post on the SLV RENEWABLE COMMUNITIES ALLIANCE, "BLM solar study a corporate land-grab?"

It gave me the distinct sense that my long held misgivings about utility scale solar electricity generation, operated by utilities and corporations on public land, is not such a great idea.

So, I posted a comment (open until March 17th -- hurry!) on the BLM's "Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS)" site, which solicits public comments here.

Here's my comment (feel free to copy & paste!):
PEIS sounds, I'm sad to say, like a bad idea all around.

First, when I see names like BP, Chevron, JP Morgan, and Goldman Sachs associated with any use of public resources, including land (or Gulfs... i.e. Gulf of Mexico), my hackles are immediately raised. These folks do not, under any circumstances, put the interests of the public first. Their sole concern is short-term profit, and long-term domination of market share to the exclusion of all other options.

Second, utility scale electricity generation is not generally considered a least-cost solution for renewable electricity generation. A proven better and cheaper approach is distributed renewables, where electricity is generated near the load (on the roof, or in adjacent property), and where local co-generation (CHP: combined heat and power) is implemented in the case of thermal generators. Distributed renewables do not require the construction of long-distance transmission lines, so lower cost and better efficiency are gained. Also, distributed renewables bring the added benefit of more, better paid jobs in existing communities.

So, why would we embrace the use of public land for corporate, utility scale electricity generation? Well, it sounds like interested utilities and corporations want to dictate the terms of renewable electricity generation, and insure a perpetual profit stream at the expense of ratepayers. By implementing capital-intensive projects, corporate planners insure their dominating influence will persist for many, many years (this is the same approach used by the nuclear power industry -- once ratepayers have invested a fortune to build one of those things, they are loath to abandon it, even if better options are present).

Further, this plan sounds a little like mountain top removal to me. Once you build in these environments, the environment is altered -- pristine ecosystems gone -- forever. Distributed renewables offer power generation on already developed land (for less expense, and no lossy transmission lines).

If there is no stopping this, I suggest we go very slowly. No “fast track,” thank you. Take sufficient time to evaluate the social and environmental impact, GHG footprint, and economics of these plants. If, after detailed, public-reviewed study, these projects are deemed worthwhile from a public interest perspective, please stick with BLM option #1: “A no action alternative that continues the issuance of right-of-way authorizations for utility-scale solar energy development on a case-by-case basis in accordance with existing policies.”

Then, I would insist that these utilities be publicly owned, not-for-profit entities. They should not be corporate profit centers that hold ratepayers captive for decades.


If you care about public land use for private gain, or the future of renewable energy, I would suggest you read the post, and post a comment, before March 17th.

Update: The PEIS deadline for comments has been extended until April 15th.
But don't procrastinate! Be heard, not herded.


  1. The comment period has been extended to April 15 giving us more time to educate and spread the word about the Department of Interior/Energy's ill-conceived plan to hand our public lands over to the solar industrialists! Thanks Jim, for blogging on this.

  2. Well, that's good news. Thanks, Ceal.


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