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Context of 'September 4, 2012: Wall Street Journal Makes Misleading Claim that Solar Energy Plant Construction Would Add to Carbon Emission Burden'

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Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, and his assistant, David Quist, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, discover the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in native Mexican maize growing in the remote hills of Oaxaca, Mexico. The contaminant genes contain DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus, which is often used as a promoter to “switch on” insecticidal or herbicidal properties in GM plants. Contamination is also found in samples from a government food store that purchases animal feed from the US. The Oaxaca region is considered to be the birthplace of maize and the world’s center of diversity for corn, “exactly the kind of repository of genetic variation that environmentalists and many scientists had hoped to protect from contamination,” the New York Times reports. Scientists worry that the genes could spread through the region’s corn population reducing its genetic diversity. Critics of genetically modified crops have long argued that the technology cannot be contained. According to Dr. Norman C. Ellstrand, evolutionary biologist at University of California at Riverside, the discovery “shows in today’s modern world how rapidly genetic material can move from one place to another.” The findings are not good news for the biotech industry which is currently lobbying Brazil, the European Union, and Mexico to lift their embargoes on genetically modified crops. [New York Times, 10/2/2001; Manchester Guardian Weekly, 12/12/2001; BBC, 3/13/2002] It is later learned that the contamination resulted from Oaxacan peasants planting kernels they purchased from a local feed store. Though there’s a moratorium on the growing of GM crops, there’s no such ban on animal feed containing GM seed. [Cox News, 10/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Bivings Group, Monsanto, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources announces that it has found genetically modified (GM) corn growing in 15 different localities. It began investigating potential GM contamination after two Berkeley scientists found maize growing in Oaxaca (see October 2000) that was contaminated with genetically engineered DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus. [New York Times, 10/2/2001] Mexico does not release its study until January 2002 (see January 2002).

Entity Tags: Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

When Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist who recently discovered the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in Mexican maize (see October 2000), meets with a Mexican agricultural official to discuss the GM contamination, he is warned not to publish his research. Chapela later recalls in an interview with BBC Newsnight, “He [told] me how terrible it was that I was doing the research and how dangerous it would be for me to publish.” When he refuses to back off the issue, the official suggests that Chapela join a research team tasked with proving that the suspected GM genes are actually naturally occuring gene sequences similar to the ones in GM corn. “We were supposed to find this in an elite scientific research team of which I was being invited to be part of and the other people were two people from Monsanto and two people from Dupont supposedly… .” Monsanto denies its scientists were involved in any such study. Chapela also meets with Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, whose officials are concerned about the discovery. They launch their own investigation and also find evidence of contamination (see September 18, 2001). [BBC, 6/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Ignacio Chapela, Mexico, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Berkeley grad student David Quist and Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, publish the results of a study (see October 2000) finding that native Mexican maize has been contaminated with genetically modified genes. The study—published by the British journal Nature after an eight-month long peer-review process—presents two arguments. In addition to reporting the discovery that some of Oaxaca’s maize contains transgenic material, the paper says they found transgene fragments scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA. [Quist and Chapela, 11/29/2001 pdf file] The study’s second conclusion causes a controversy because it contradicts the assertions of the biotech industry that genetic engineering is a safe and exact science, and that the technology is capable of controlling precisely where the modified sequences are positioned, how they will be expressed, and whether or not they will be passed on to successive generations. One of the main arguments of the technology’s detractors is that the methods used to insert trangenic genes into an organism’s DNA cannot be done with accuracy and therefore are liable to produce unpredictable and undesirable effects. Following the publication of Quist and Chapela’s article, other Berkeley biologists—who work in a Berkeley University program partially funded by Syngenta, a major biotech firm—criticize the study, leading Quist and Chapela to acknowledge that the analyses of two of the eight gene sequences in their paper were flawed. However they stand by their conclusions that the remaining six sequences contained scattered modified gene sequences. Critics of the article also note that both Quist and Chapela strongly oppose the genetic engineering of crops and participated in an unsuccessful effort to block the Berkeley-Syngenta partnership. The issue soon grows into a very large controversy that some suggest is fueled by the efforts of the biotech industry, and in particular, the Bivings Group, a PR firm on Monsanto’s payroll. Forum postings at AgBioWorld.org are reportedly traced to a Bivings’ employee. It is also noted that another person posting on the forum makes “frequent reference to the Center for Food and Agricultural Research, an entity that appears to exist only online and whose domain is [allegedly] registered to a Bivings employee.” Bivings denies that it is in any way connected to the forum postings. In spite of the controversy surrounding the article’s second finding, the other conclusion, that Mexico’s maize has been contaminated, is largely uncontested, and is buttressed by at least three other studies (see January 2002; February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/4/2002; East Bay Express, 5/29/2002; BBC, 6/2/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Bivings Group, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Carol Lam.Carol Lam. [Source: Common Dreams (,org)]Carol Lam is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Southern District of California. [Talking Points Memo, 2011] Lam is a former Assistant US Attorney, a former California Superior Court judge, and an acknowledged expert on white-collar crime and health care fraud. During her interview process for the US Attorney position, she described herself as “non-partisan,” and said she does not belong to any political party. When asked if she could support the Justice Department’s policies considering that she is not a Republican, she answered that “it is a responsibility of a US Attorney to effect the attorney general’s guidelines in a way that makes sense in the district.” White House Counsel Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) offered Lam the job, at which time she told him that he had not “made things easy by virtue of the fact that I was a non-partisan.” Lam’s ascension to her post was delayed by political infighting between powerful Republicans and Democrats. It is the first time in five years her district has had a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed US Attorney. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 124; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) requests information from the Justice Department about the arrest of an alleged illegal alien smuggler from US Attorney Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002), the federal prosecutor who works the Southern California district. Issa asks for information about Lam’s decision not to prosecute Antonio Amparo-Lopez, who was arrested on suspicion of “alien smuggling” over the US-Mexican border. [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file] Issa was quoted in a December 2003 article in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise entitled “Border Agents Face Uphill Fight,” in which the Justice Department was criticized for not prosecuting immigrant smugglers frequently enough. Shortly thereafter, the same newspaper published an article detailing how one such smuggler, Amparo-Lopez, was arrested at a border checkpoint but was subsequently released. Lam will respond to Issa in mid-March, requesting that he direct his inquiries to the Justice Department in Washington. On May 24, Issa will receive a letter from Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, stating, “Based upon all of the facts and circumstances of his arrest, the United States Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Mr. Amparo-Lopez.” [National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: William E. Moschella, US Department of Justice, Darrell E. Issa, Carol C. Lam, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Riverside Press-Enterprise

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and 13 other representatives sign a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft protesting the Justice Department’s policy towards prosecuting “alien smugglers,” or “coyotes,” who bring illegal immigrants across the US-Mexican border. Issa, who wrote the letter, says that the DOJ should adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy towards “alien smuggling” and should prosecute everyone accused of such a crime. Issa refers to decisions by US Attorney Carol Lam of the District of Southern California (see November 8, 2002) not to prosecute persons charged with the crime of “alien smuggling,” and references the case of Antonio Amparo-Lopez as an example of a “missed opportunity” to prosecute such an alleged criminal (see February 2, 2004). Issa writes: “It is unfortunate and unacceptable that anyone in the Department of Justice would deem alien smuggling, on any level or by any person, too low of a priority to warrant prosecution in a timely fashion. In our view, a lack of available resources for prosecution is not a valid reason for a decision not to prosecute and, in fact, would signify a mismanagement of your department’s priorities.” [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file] Issa represents California’s 49th District, which centers on San Diego and is part of Lam’s federal district. [Healthy City, 8/2011 pdf file] Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will send Issa a brief reply defending the Justice Department’s prosecution practices (see (December 30, 2004)). Issa’s spokesperson Frederick Hill will later tell columnist Byron York: “We were stumped in terms of getting information to explain the scope of the problem. We put the word out on the street that we were interested in getting more information about this.” York later writes, “Issa was hoping for a tip—perhaps from someone inside a law-enforcement organization—to give him the information he had been seeking.” [National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Frederick Hill, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Byron York, Darrell E. Issa, William E. Moschella, Carol C. Lam, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US, Mexico, and Canada enter into a trilateral agreement that allows food and grain shipments to have GM contamination levels as high as 5 percent. Shipments containing less than the five percent level will only have to bear a label indicating that the grain may contain genetically modified organisms. Additionally, accidental contamination of corn shipments into Mexico will not trigger any labeling requirements. Only the distributor will have to be informed of the contamination. The Mexican government enters into the agreement without the Mexican Senate’s approval. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004] Critics of the deal say the US is attempting to protect agricultural biotech companies and US agriculture. A large percentage of the country’s crop is genetically modified and as a result US farmers and biotechs are having a tough time finding markets abroad. Raising the acceptable contamination limits in other countries will help increase US grain exports. Critics also say that the deal could have a dramatically adverse effect on the genetic diversity of Mexico’s maize. It could result in the planting of more genetically modified corn since small farmers have been known to occasionally plant feed as seed. A few years before, maize growing in Oaxaca and Puebla was discovered to contain genetically modified genes (see October 2000; April 18, 2002). It is believed that the contamination was caused in part by farmers who had planted feed from local stores selling grain imported from the US. The ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization that is opposed to genetically modified crops, warns that if Mexico permits the import of grain with such high levels of contamination, the country’s “maize crop would be riddled with foreign DNA from the Rio Grande to Guatemala in less than a decade.” [ETC Group, 2/26/2004] Greenpeace believes that US efforts to convince countries to lower the accepted levels of contamination are aimed at undermining the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (see January 24-29, 2000), which has been set up to regulate transboundary shipments of genetically modified organisms. [Greenpeace, 2/11/2004]

Entity Tags: United States, Mexico

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Assistant Attorney General William Moschella sends a letter, written by staffers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA), to Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa and other House Republicans have written letters to the DOJ railing against certain US Attorneys’ “failures” to adequately prosecute undocumented immigrants and so-called “alien smugglers,” people who help undocumented immigrants cross the border from Mexico into the US (see February 2, 2004 and July 30, 2004). Issa’s primary target of criticism is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California. Moschella’s letter emphasizes the “enormous challenge” that Lam and other US Attorneys in border districts (Southern Texas, Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California) face “in trying to enforce our criminal immigration and narcotics laws along that border.” The number of immigration-related prosecutions in most of those districts has soared, the letter reads, straining those districts’ already-thin financial and personnel resources. The director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) has already contacted Lam and other border-district US Attorneys, Moschella says, concerning ways to improve their “response[s] to immigration violations.” The EOUSA staff will draft a letter for Lam’s signature to respond to Issa in mid-2005. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file] Issa receives the letter on January 25, 2005. [National Review, 3/28/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Legislative Affairs, Darrell E. Issa, US Department of Justice, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Carol C. Lam, William E. Moschella

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), asks Acting Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General William Mercer for his opinion on the performance of a number of US Attorneys. (Mercer is also a US Attorney.) Mercer will later state that Sampson does not say that there is a plan to fire some of the Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, March 2, 2005, and March 23, 2005), but Mercer understands that such is Sampson’s purpose in asking his opinion. Sampson says that changes might be made in certain districts with productivity problems or policy compliance issues. Mercer will later recall discussing issues with US Attorney Carol Lam’s immigration records (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, and September 23, 2005), and will recall discussions about US Attorney Kevin Ryan as well. Mercer will say he and Sampson may discuss other Attorneys as well, but will state he cannot recall who those Attorneys might be. Mercer gets the sense that Sampson is speaking with other people about the issue, but does not know who those people might be. Mercer will say that he and Sampson do not discuss the issue again until December 2006, when the firing plan is activated (see December 7, 2006). [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, D. Kyle Sampson, Kevin J. Ryan, William W. Mercer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Nineteen US Representatives, headed by Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Darrell Issa (R-CA), send a letter to President Bush warning of a “crisis along the Southwest border” of the nation “that needs immediate attention.” Smith and his fellow signatories complain that “coyotes,” or criminals who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border in attempts to avoid immigration procedures and the US Border Patrol, constitute a grave threat to national security. Smith references the case of Antonio Amparo-Lopez, a “coyote” whom, after being arrested, was let go by Carol Lam, the US Attorney in Southern California (see February 2, 2004 and July 30, 2004). Lam and other Justice Department officials have cited a severe lack of resources in their decisions not to prosecute low-level alleged criminals such as Amparo-Lopez. The signatories ask Bush to “dedicate additional resources and direct US Attorneys in the Southwest region to make the prosecution of human smugglers a priority.” Representative Randall “Duke” Cunningham is one of the signatories; he is under investigation by Lam’s office for corruption. Six weeks later, the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs sends what conservative columnist Byron York will call “a brush-off letter” in response. [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file; National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Office of Legislative Affairs, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Byron York, Carol C. Lam, Darrell E. Issa, Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham, George W. Bush, Lamar Smith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) writes a letter to the US Attorney for Southern California, Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002), complaining about her “apparent instance of discretionary non-prosecution of criminal illegal aliens.” He says that Lam should immediately reverse her decision not to prosecute Alfredo Gonzales Garcia (also recorded as “Alfredo Garcia-Gonzalez”), a repeat offender currently in the custody of the Border Patrol; he writes, “Criminal alien repeat offenders pose a significant danger to our citizens and must be dealt with more severely than a 24-hour detention and release.” He continues: “Your office has established an appalling record of refusal to prosecute even the worst criminal alien offenders.… Every time one of these criminals is released, our communities become more dangerous.” [US House of Representatives, 10/13/2005 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file] Issa and his fellow Republicans have long pressured Lam to prosecute more immigrant cases (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, November 4, 2004 - (February 2005), (December 30, 2004), and September 23, 2005). Issa has also accused Lam, apparently without proof, of having a policy of not prosecuting “immigration ‘mules,’” apparently referring to immigrant “smugglers,” sometimes called “coyotes,” who help immigrants illegally cross the border from Mexico into the US. In June 2005, Lam denied having such a policy, but did note that “it is not physically possible to prosecute every alien (or coyote) who is arrested” and therefore her office “must focus its prosecutorial resources on those aliens who pose the greatest danger to the United States by their presence.” At the same time, Assistant Attorney General William Moschella wrote in response: “The Southern District of California (SDCA) does not have a policy against prosecuting coyotes, publicly stated or otherwise. Nor does any other district. In fact, SDCA has aggressively prosecuted coyotes for years, with an increasing number of cases in each year since 2001.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Alfredo Gonzales Garcia, Darrell E. Issa, William E. Moschella, Carol C. Lam

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and the author of Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, writes an op-ed for the New York Times claiming that solar power production is too costly in part because of the “huge” amount of land it requires. “[W]hile energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources—most notably, land,” he writes. “Even a cursory look at these costs exposes the deep contradictions in the renewable energy movement.” Bryce cites as one example the Ivanpah solar plant, which takes up about five and a half acres in the Mojave Desert and will generate about 370 megawatts of power when completed (see September 22, 2013). “The math is simple: to have 8,500 megawatts of solar capacity, California would need at least 23 projects the size of Ivanpah, covering about 129 square miles, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan,” he writes. “While there’s plenty of land in the Mojave, projects as big as Ivanpah raise environmental concerns. In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction on part of the facility out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act” (see August 13, 2013). Wind power generation consumes even more land, he writes, citing the example of a wind farm in Texas that covers 154 square miles and generates over 781 megawatts of energy. Add to that the need for “long swaths of land for power lines,” and you have what one conservation group calls “energy sprawl,” the need for large amounts of land to generate power. He concludes: “All energy and power systems exact a toll. If we are to [keep power generation systems small] while also reducing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, we must exploit the low-carbon energy sources—natural gas and, yes, nuclear—that have smaller footprints.” [New York Times, 8/6/2011]
'Gusher of Lies' - In 2010, the progressive news Web site Think Progress called Bryce’s book “a gusher of lies,” and recruited renewable energy expert Adam Siegel to debunk it. Siegel wrote: “Masquerading as an unbiased, fact-based look at America’s energy situation and viable paths forward into the future, Robert Bryce’s Power Hungry is a mixed collection of factual material, thought-provoking constructs, selective ‘truthiness,’ questionable (if not simply wrong) data crunching, and outright deceptions. This mix of material makes Bryce’s work dangerous reading for those without a serious grounding in energy (related) issues while that same mix calls into question this work’s value for anyone with that more serious background.” [Think Progress, 9/14/2010]
Counter-Claims - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 pdf file; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 pdf file; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Energy Information Administration, Think Progress (.org), Ivanpah Solar Complex, Bureau of Land Management, Adam Siegel, New York Times, US Department of Energy, Robert Bryce

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Los Angeles Times publishes a long analysis of the environmental impact solar power projects are expected to have on the southwestern US desert (see August 13, 2013). Written by Julie Cart, the analysis focuses on the Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave (see September 22, 2013), which is projected to expand to some 3,500 acres of public land when finished. The plant “will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility, and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource [the firm building the plant] has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species, and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.” Environmental attorney Johanna Wald, who was involved in the negotiations to build the plant, says: “I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection. I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.” Cart says that plants like the Ivanpah facility will result in “a wholesale remodeling of the American desert” in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. “[H]undreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear,” Cart writes. “Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.” Dennis Schramm, the former superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, warns: “The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal. The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted.” Cart writes that at the moment, solar energy is “three times more expensive than natural gas or coal” because of “capital costs and other market factors,” and ratepayers will pay “as much as 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the [California] state Public Utilities Commission.” The impact on the environment will be dramatic in some places, with birds and other wildlife abandoning some areas entirely, and the possible “massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors,” according to government biologist Larry LaPre. Desert tortoise expert Jeffrey Lovich says no one really knows the impact the plants will have on the desert. “This is an experiment on a grand scale,” he says. “Science is racing to catch up.” Most large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have chosen not to protest the development, instead agreeing to become part of the negotiation process and winning some environmental concessions from the developers. Wald, who works with the NRDC, says of the projects: “We didn’t make them perfect. We didn’t eliminate their environmental impact because you can’t eliminate the environmental impact. But we made them better.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2012]
Refutation of Land Use Requirements - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 pdf file; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 pdf file; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Ivanpah Solar Complex, Energy Information Administration, BrightSource Energy, US Department of Energy, Sierra Club, Los Angeles Times, Dennis Schramm, Natural Resources Defense Council, Julie Cart, Larry LaPre, Jeffrey Lovich, Johanna Wald

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

A brief article in the Wall Street Journal claims that solar energy does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the aggregate, because the carbon savings from desert-based solar projects will be offset by “disturbing caliche deposits that release carbon dioxide.” The Journal cites a formal complaint filed by three Western environmental organizations claiming that desert-based solar projects not only endanger desert ecosystems, but “soil disturbance from large-scale solar development may disrupt Pleistocene-era caliche deposits that release carbon to the atmosphere when exposed to the elements, thus negat[ing] the solar development C [carbon] gains.” The Journal acknowledges that some aspects of the complaint may be exaggerated. The Journal does not mention that the report cited in the complaint, a 2011 study released by the University of California-Riverside, says that the 560,000 metric tons of carbon saved per year by a single solar plant would more than offset the estimated 6,000 metric tons of carbon released by disturbing caliche deposits. [Wall Street Journal, 9/4/2012; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Wall Street Journal, University of California-Riverside

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

As the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) begins phasing out coal and natural gas power plants, it is turning more and more to “solar parks” in the desert to the east to generate much-needed power. However, these solar parks are raising concerns among environmentalists and local residents. The Ivanpah Solar Complex in the Mojave Desert has taken steps to minimize the impact its existence will have on the fragile desert tortoise population. The Genesis Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, California, was recently forced to halt construction when Native American burial remains were found on the construction site. Donna Charpeid, a farmer in Desert Center, California, says of the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm being built near her home: “My heart aches every time I look out my window and see the construction over there. It’s just unbelievable, the destruction.” The Desert Sunlight plant is being built near Charpeid’s 10-acre plot near the Joshua Tree State Park. It is projected to provide enough power to run 160,000 average homes and decrease the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by 300,000 tons annually. Seventeen “Solar Energy Zones” have been proposed for California by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Department of Energy. Charpeid says of the zones: “This is a whole new form of gentrification. If all these projects come to fruition, people will simply not be able to live here. This is all seems like corporate welfare to me.” Critics worry that although water is not used by all solar-thermal plants for power generation, the water consumed by the plants—keeping dust down, rinsing panels, providing for the needs of workers—will deplete the water reserves in the area. In Desert Center, the residents’ water comes from deep underground reservoirs that are not generally replenished by groundwater; Charpeid says their water was found to be up to 30,000 years old. She also worries about the impact on the local weather: dust storms have increased over the last few years, she says, threatening her ability to farm jojoba. And animal habitats are being threatened. “I really wish [President] Obama would’ve given out that stimulus money to do rooftop solar instead,” she says, “like they’ve done in Germany.” LADWP board commissioner Jonathan Parfrey, the director of advocacy organization Climate Resolve, says: “I’ve been out in the desert; I know some of the people being impacted. I’m an enviro, I want to conserve that land. But it’s not just as easy as saying LA’s got to slap solar on rooftops. There has to be a balanced approach.” Parfrey says that solar plants need to be constructed in areas that are not rich in wildlife or used for recreational purposes, but adds that these solar desert plants must be built somewhere. Using solar arrays on rooftops of businesses and homes is expensive, he says, and sometimes interferes with distribution balancing and voltage problems as they co-exist with grid-produced electricity. He says: “In my view the transition to clean energy has to happen as inexpensively as possible. Otherwise people will rebel and they won’t even want to pay for it in the face of climate impacts. They will say, ‘That’s too bad about what’s happening to the environment, but I can’t afford to put food on my table because my electricity bills are too high.’” The LADWP is experimenting with inexpensive solar rooftop arrays, Palfrey says. “If I could have my moment like in The Graduate where [a character] says to Dustin Hoffman, ‘The future is in plastics,’ mine is how do we do distributed generation where we maintain the utility business model and we’re able to provide continual service for people. When we find the magic key to that I think it will be a revolution. I think it will really help affect the transition away from fossil-fuel energy sources.” [Grist Magazine, 8/13/2013]

Entity Tags: Genesis Solar Energy Project, Bureau of Land Management, Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, Ivanpah Solar Complex, Donna Charpeid, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Jonathan Parfrey, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, located on 3,500 acres in the Mojave Desert, begins generating electricity. The solar thermal power plant uses a circular array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight at a water-filled central tower. The resulting steam powers turbines, which in turn produce electricity. When fully operational, the Ivanpah plant will feed 377 megawatts of power into two California utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison. During some days, the power generated could serve up to 200,000 residential consumers. The project is a partnership between NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, Google, Bechtel, and the federal government, which leased public land to the plant and provided loan guarantees (see February 2009). Some environmentalists have been sharply critical of the impact on the desert environment (see August 13, 2013), and other critics have asked why a desert solar power plant is not using photovoltaic panels to collect sunlight. NRG Solar president Tom Doyle says, “Given the magnitude and complexity of Ivanpah, it was very important that we successfully complete this milestone showing all systems were on track.” Unit 1 is producing energy; Units 2 and 3 are coming online soon. When fully operational, the three plants will almost double the amount of commercial solar thermal energy capacity now operating in the US. [NRG Solar, 2012; Business Wire, 9/24/2013; Grist Magazine, 9/25/2013]

Entity Tags: Ivanpah Solar Complex, Bechtel, Google, Pacific Gas and Electric, NRG Energy, Tom Doyle, BrightSource Energy, Southern California Edison

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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