Nation’s Largest Solar Farm on Public Lands Now Online
Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in California is the country's sixth—and largest—solar project approved on public lands. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Neil Kornze, and California state and industry leaders announced the opening of the facility on Monday.
The solar farm provides 550 megawatts of electricity to the grid, which is enough to power about 160,000 homes and is estimated to displace 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Department of the Interior (DOI). Desert Sunlight was developed by First Solar, the farm is owned by NextEra and the energy it produces is sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Southern California Edison.
“Solar projects like Desert Sunlight are helping to create American jobs, develop domestic renewable energy and cut carbon pollution,” said Secretary Jewell. “I applaud the project proponents for their vision and entrepreneurial spirit to build this solar project and commend Governor Brown for implementing policies that take action on climate change and help move our nation toward a renewable energy future.”
Governor Brown announced last month his goal to increase the amount of electricity the state generates from renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030. President Obama set a goal to approve 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public land by 2020, part of his Climate Action Plan. Projects like these will help make both of those goals a reality.
The renewable energy projects built on public lands since 2009 are producing more than 2,200 megawatts of power, or enough to power almost 700,000 average homes and an additional 2,500 megawatts is currently under construction, according the DOI.
“This is an important day for solar energy, California and for the nation,” said Kornze. “The Desert Sunlight project is an example of how industry and government can work together to strengthen local economies, generate good jobs and provide affordable, reliable, sustainable power.”
Nationwide, BLM has approved 52 utility-scale renewable energy projects, including 29 solar projects, with a total capacity of more than 14,000 megawatts. If built as planned, these projects will provide more than 21,000 jobs and power about 4.8 million homes, according to DOI.
DOI and BLM have taken great efforts to minimize the impact from one of the world's largest solar farms. The facility uses more than 8 million First Solar photovoltaic modules to generate power with no air emissions, no waste production and no water use. The thin film technology has the smallest carbon footprint of any photovoltaic technology.
The project "underwent extensive environmental review and mitigation" and the BLM is "requiring that Desert Sunlight provide funding for acquisition and enhancement of more than 7,500 acres of suitable habitat for desert tortoise and other sensitive wildlife species to help mitigate the project’s potential impacts."
Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industry Association, discussed with Ed Schultz the benefits of the project on MSNBC's The Ed Show yesterday. One percent of the job growth in the U.S. last year came just from the solar industry, according to Del Chiaro. We need to let "the government do what it does best, which is create opportunities for innovation and for businesses to do what they do best, which, in this case, is turn our abundant sunshine into renewable, pollution-free electricity," Del Chiaro told Schultz.
The recent explosion in solar projects is impressive: "We've installed just in California alone more solar power in the last 18 months than the past 18 years combined," Del Chiaro said. "It's a huge success story of government actually getting behind smart, innovative, no-brainer business opportunities, turning the sunlight into real jobs."
When Schultz asked Del Chiaro, "Where do we go from here?" Del Chiaro said rooftops in cities are the next untapped market. She said that in California we've only installed solar on one to two percent of the roofs.
Not everyone is pleased about the recent uptick in massive solar farms, though. David Lamfrom of the National Parks Conservation Association, is concerned about the location of the new project. He told National Parks Traveler, there's still work to be done in the California desert, including "permanently protecting some of the most beautiful and vibrant lands in America" and says we need to do "a better job of siting renewable energy away from species-rich lands. Considering how important our national parks and protected lands are to our desert economy, finding this balance now is fundamental.”
California's Senators clearly see the public's concern over ensuring that "critical parts of the California desert ... will be protected for all time," as Sen. Feinstein put it. At the same time that DOI and BLM were celebrating the launch of the new mega-solar farm, Senators Feinstein and Boxer introduced the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015 to "protect additional land and help manage California’s desert resources by carefully balancing conservation, recreation and renewable energy development."
“This new bill preserves more land, sets aside off-road recreational sites and allows for the development of renewable energy in a responsible way," said Feinstein. "With so many competing uses for this land, it is essential that we come together to build consensus."
Among its many provisions, the bill would expand acreage in the Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, create two national monuments and expand BLM wilderness areas. To strike a "balanced approach to renewable energy development," Feinstein proposes creating "solar zones established by the federal government" on federal land but outside of national parks and designated wilderness areas to avoid "conflicts over lands long intended for conservation. “This piece of legislation is the final chapter in a long effort to preserve one of the most magnificent landscapes in the United States,” Feinstein said.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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