DEATH VALLEY, Calif. – Green energy projects might be all the fad, but members of conservation groups urged that plans be studied carefully to prevent negative effects on the environment at the annual Devil’s Hole workshop here last week.
Walt Kuver, who shared a presentation with Donna Lamm, representing the Southern Nye County Conservation District, showed a map highlighting a half-dozen right-of-way permits filed with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for wind and solar projects along most of the south side of a 29-mile stretch of Highway 95 between Amargosa Valley and Beatty.
Kuver pointed out one optimistic developer even filed for land surrounding the Big Dune Area of Critical Environmental Concern in Amargosa Valley.
Kuver owns a company called Directed Solutions. Nye County Commissioners awarded him a contract for up to $35,000 last November to provide professional services in support of project management tasks requested by the county manager.
Kuver said right-of-way applications for renewable energy projects total over 110 square miles, not including a separate solar power project planned near Mercury on the Nevada Test Site.
Four companies filed applications for nine different solar projects as well as a wind power project around Rhyolite. A solar project is planned west of the Beatty Airport, a larger one just southwest of the airport, and there are five rights-of-way applications for solar projects between U.S. Ecology, a few miles south of Beatty, and Jackass Flats in Lathrop Wells.
“These are not nice solar panels on your house to make electricity or hot water. This is serious stuff, hundreds of megawatts, maybe over a thousand,” Kuver said.
A megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes.
If all right-of-way applications were approved, the road from Amargosa Valley to Beatty would be lined with photovoltaic panels, steam turbine power plants and other infrastructure, he said.
The theme of his presentation was “a question of balance.”
“I don’t think we can afford environmental extremism, nor stubbornness on the other side,” Kuver said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to do this. Renewable energy sounds like a good deal. Part of the renewable concerns, project concerns, is water consumption. Some solar power projects are sloppy and use a lot of water. We have to discourage that.”
Kuver explained water is used to cool the fluid going through the turbines powered by solar power to make electricity.
Kuver talked about the difference between “dry cooling,” which may use only 15 to 20 acre feet of water per year for a 100-megawatt plant, to “wet cooling,” which could consume 1,200 to 1,500 acre feet. An acre foot of water is about 320,000 gallons, or enough water to supply two families for a year.
Nevada Solar One near Boulder City uses 400 acre feet of water for 64 megawatts of power.
Kuver said he expects protests to be filed by federal agencies on water applications for renewable energy projects in Amargosa Valley.
The big renewable energy projects are in the middle of the Valley Electric Association service area, which Kuver said is “not a high-powered utility company.”
“It’s rural. They still give out jelly recipes and fly swatters at the front desk, and now all of a sudden they have to wheel this power out of the Nevada grid, or as expected, a lot of it will go to California. There are transmission corridor issues,” he said. “There are a whole host of things that have to be dealt with.”
Brian Brown, a member of the Amargosa Conservancy, mentioned massive solar and wind power projects are proposed in the Desert Southwest, with applications to use over 1 million acres of public land all the way to the Mexican border.
“Now if you take 1 million acres of anything, and you remove all the plants, and you level it, and you cover it for tens of square miles, obviously that’s going to have a significant impact on the environment and the whole ecosystem in that region,” Brown told attendees at the workshop.
“No one is saying certainly that renewable energy is bad or we don’t want solar, but there are appropriate places to put it and there are places where it probably should not go. In this sort of land rush to use public lands for these things, we don’t want those considerations to get shoved aside.”
Some solar power facilities have significant water needs, while he said some green energy projects with massive wind turbines could mar the landscape.
“Those have all sorts of implications, especially when you’re talking about gigantic acreages. Not all of those plants, windmill sites or solar sites, will be approved, but some of them will, and we’d like to guide those locations to places where they will have the least impact,” Brown said. “Whenever you do a facility like this, you’ve got to get electricity into the grid so you’ve got to have transmission lines. You’ve got to have roads to maintain all this stuff. There are significant impacts of renewable energy.”
“It’s not a bad thing but it needs to be a thoughtful process and not sited in places that destroy viewscapes forever. This could be one of the things that drives the Mojave landscape for the next 100, 200 years,” he said.
By Mark Waite
21 May 2008
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