Sun Stroke in the Mohave!

A solar smack down is brewing in the Mohave Desert.  It pits Senator Dianne Feinstein and a group of environmental groups that claim they want more clean and renewable energy including solar power, but just not “here” against project developers who see the Mohave as the perfect place for such development. [1]

Recently, Senator Feinstein filed a bill to establish two new national monuments on Federal lands to discourage future solar projects in the area.  You might think that California would be eager to attract projects, but we’re discovering that even renewable energy projects are not always welcome.

“If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mohave Desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put them,” said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What’s happening?

Solar photovoltaic projects often cover large areas to scale their output potential. But Senator Feinstein and the opponents say the sheer size of such projects will do irreparable harm to the habitat of the desert.

This experience in the Mohave may be one reason we will see many more gas combined cycle plants built in the future. It’s not easy being green even in California.

Other solar projects in California are facing similar criticisms and this is the NIMBY problem that exasperates renewable advocates and developers. The Federal Government and the State of California have been enthusiastic supporters of renewable energy.  For example, Federal stimulus funds would pay for more than 30% of the $1.8 billion cost of the Solargen project in the Central California if the project can get through the permitting and environmental review process by December 2010. With the clock ticking, you can bet that there is furious work on all sides going on behind the scenes to produce an acceptable outcome.

It will be tough to match the locational attributes for the Solargen preferred site according to CEO Mike Peterson who recites them like they were the Nicene Creed: 20 miles from the nearest town; 90% of the solar intensity of the Mohave Desert; five willing sellers; 18,000 acres of property with high voltage electric transmission lines running right through them, and the money ready to go to build the plant and create both construction and operations jobs in a part of California that really needs them.

[1] ERRATA: In an earlier version of this story I mistakenly identified the Solargen project as one of the projects in dispute in the Mohave Desert.  This was not correct and I apologize for the error.  The Solargen Energy Panoche Valley Solar Farm is not located in the Mojave Desert or even on Federal Land which is the focus of Sen. Feinstein.