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US Halts Applications For Solar Energy Projects 481

Posted by kdawson
from the think-of-the-mojave-ground-squirrels dept.
Dekortage writes "The US Bureau of Land Management, overwhelmed by applications for large-scale solar energy plants, has declared a two-year freeze on applications for new projects until it completes an extensive environmental impact study. The study will produce 'a single set of environmental criteria to weigh future solar proposals, which will ultimately speed the application process.' The freeze means that current applications will continue to be processed — plants producing enough electricity for 20 million average American homes — but no new applications will be accepted until the study is complete. Solar power companies are worried that this will harm the industry just as it is poised for explosive growth. Some note that gas and oil projects are booming in the southwestern states most favorable to solar development. Another threat looming over the solar industry is that federal tax credits must be renewed in Congress, else they will expire this year."
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US Halts Applications For Solar Energy Projects

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  • by MrMunkey (1039894) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:31AM (#23968049) Homepage
    Here is the printer friendly format for easier reading. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/us/27solar.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print [nytimes.com]
  • by jonnythan (79727) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:32AM (#23968077) Homepage

    They probably should have done this sooner, but it's better to do the EIS before the explosive growth of solar plants.

    This way, they have a much better idea what the effects will be, and have more clear, consistent, comprehensive information and data on which to judge applications.

    I think the companies are just upset because it might prevent them from securing investors during the time they can't even submit an application. But for the people, and the industry, it's probably not that big of a deal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Fastfwd (44389)

      Ideally yes but is'nt stopping everything a too radical solution to the problem of poor planning?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by lazyDog86 (1191443)
        They're not stopping everything, they are not letting anything new start while they do better planning. Sounds like a good solution for poor planning to me.
        • by mikael (484) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:04PM (#23968543)

          What they mean is: We fear that if solar and wind power are allowed to grow, it may create unemployment in the coal-mining and gas extraction industries.

          A large solar and wind farm had the capability to replace the energy generated from a small coal mine. , which of course affects the voting pattern.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Smauler (915644)

            A large solar and wind farm _do not_ have the capability to replace the energy generated from a small coal plant on a still cloudy day, and that is your problem right there. I guess you could invest in some _really_ big batteries. Seriously, anyone who has seriously looked into green energy has found just this one huge drawback (there are others which I will not go into now) insurmountable for large scale operation.

            • by gnick (1211984) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:34PM (#23969121) Homepage

              Seriously, anyone who has seriously looked into green energy has found just this one huge drawback (there are others which I will not go into now) insurmountable for large scale operation.

              I agree with what you have to say, but feel the need to run off on a tangent.

              The term 'green' bugs me when applied to solar power. Producing solar cells isn't a very friendly process and the environmental footprint of a large solar farm is worse than that of an oil-rig or gas mine. Just because they don't create waste while operating, IMHO, doesn't make them green. Hopefully this hiatus will yield a rational analysis of that. Nuclear power seems much 'greener' to me despite the fact that it's rarely labeled as such.

              • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:11PM (#23969787)
                Nansolar's new printing process for creating solar panels (as well as their super-cool SolarPly material you simply cut to the desired size/shape and attach leads to pull power off) is extremely environmentally friendly compared to high vacuum deposition used in older glass panels.

                In addition, generation facilities using solar thermal energy (i.e. heating a medium such as molten sodium) instead of photovoltaic panels are pretty "green", as they're just a bunch of mirrors.

                /the more you know

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by gnick (1211984)

                  It's amazing how far the technology has advanced over the last couple of years and the new products are exciting (as demonstrated by the frequency of /. posts announcing major advances) - Maybe my comment about panel production was a little hasty. But, even with the increased efficiency, that doesn't eliminate footprint associated with large solar farms. The new panels are great for home use (not affected by this interruption), but in order to put out as much energy as a coal plant (let alone nuclear) you

                  • by demonbug (309515) on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:24PM (#23971071) Journal

                    It's amazing how far the technology has advanced over the last couple of years and the new products are exciting (as demonstrated by the frequency of /. posts announcing major advances) - Maybe my comment about panel production was a little hasty. But, even with the increased efficiency, that doesn't eliminate footprint associated with large solar farms. The new panels are great for home use (not affected by this interruption), but in order to put out as much energy as a coal plant (let alone nuclear) you need a huge field of these things. And the plants and critters don't respond well to that (if you're into that kind of thing).

                    I tend to agree, building giant solar farms out in the middle of nowhere doesn't seem like a very positive step. What would be a positive step is looking at all of the places that we could put it where the land is already in use.
                    For example, I've been flying into Ontario (the California one) airport a lot for work lately. As you come in to land, you see that the airport is surrounded by this vast sea of warehouses. Acre after acre after acre of blank concrete roof, perhaps with a few skylights thrown in. Cover those enormous areas with solar panels, and you'd probably be generating quite a bit of power. Also, you don't need to worry about long transmission distances - your plant is pretty much right smack in the middle of the city.

                    This kind of thing couldn't be used for all of our power needs, but particularly in southwestern cities we could probably generate all the power we need for AC (at least) just by putting existing structures to better use. Solar farms on parking lots, warehouses, etc.

              • by cheesybagel (670288) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:21PM (#23969969)
                A concentrating solar thermal plant uses zero solar panels.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Frnknstn (663642)

                environmental footprint of a large solar farm is worse than that of an oil-rig or gas mine

                The problem with both of those is they produce pollution both at the point of production and the point of consumption.

                The idea of 'green' also hinges of 'renewable'. The supplies of coal, oil, gas and fissionable materials is severely limited, whereas the components needed for production of solar panels are significantly more plentiful.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by gnick (1211984)

                  The supplies of coal, oil, gas and fissionable materials is severely limited...

                  I'm with you on oil and gas but, if we re-process and use sensible nuclear plants, there's enough fissionable material to power the earth for a long, long time. Of course, those are two big ifs.

                • Limited? (Score:3, Informative)

                  by DesScorp (410532)

                  "The supplies of coal, oil, gas and fissionable materials is severely limited,"

                  The last three are questionable at best, but the first assertion is laughable. Coal is limited? We have more coal than we'd ever use in centuries. The United States alone has one quarter of the Earth's coal, some 250 gigatonnes. In all our history, we've used less than a fraction of one percent of that supply. Even if we turned coal into gasoline with current fuel economy standards, we'd never run out of coal in several lifetimes

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by geekoid (135745)

              haha, solar thermal can.
              Germany uses them, and Germany isn't know for it's sunny weather.

              The only problem with solar thermal is getting the turbines.
              Yes, they can store the super heated liquid and use it to run into the night.
              While not considered a base load technology, it's getting pretty damn close.

              Added Nuclear as your base load, start building solar thermal plants in the non-arable parts of the US and begin a concentrated effort on making everything electric.

              The US will need to change. Maybe that will m

            • Meet your buddy sodium nitrate. It is a salt that is a solid at room temperature and even up to several hundred degrees temperature. However, once it is heated by the oil in the tubes of the trough solar field or within the heliostat of a power tower it turns into a liquid.

              The sodium nitrate solution or solar salt is typically just a small percentage of the actual thermal storage solution. The majority of the thermal mass being composed simply of silicate or limestone gravel. Thus, the thermal storage can e

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Zymergy (803632) *
            It is not that simple...
            Solar plants, however, do not operate very efficiently at certain times of the day... (For example, we have this thing called 'darkness' whenever it happens to be 'nighttime'.)
            Sometimes, there are lots of clouds too, etc...
            Due to these simple points, terrestrial solar power generation stations will NEVER replace the 24/7 reliability of Coal/Gas/Nuclear/Hydroelectric power generation plants. Solar can only be used as a supplement during peak demand in sunny 'daytime', for exampl
            • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) * on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:00PM (#23970713) Journal
              Due to these simple points, terrestrial solar power generation stations will NEVER replace the 24/7 reliability of Coal/Gas/Nuclear/Hydroelectric power generation plants. Solar can only be used as a supplement during peak demand in sunny 'daytime', for example..

              Bullshit

              It's called SOLAR THERMAL. [wikipedia.org] And you use molten salt or graphite [wikipedia.org] to generate electricity at night.

              RS

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by BlueParrot (965239)

                It's called SOLAR THERMAL. And you use molten salt or graphite to generate electricity at night.

                So what do you do when it is cloudy for 5 days in a row? Transport electricity across the entire country ?

            • wrong, again. (Score:4, Informative)

              by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@@@yahoo...com> on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:05PM (#23970799) Homepage Journal

              Your ignorance is shocking, and your presumption that know else knows there is a 'nighttime' makes you look like an ass.

              Solar thermals trap the super heated liquid that can generate steam to turn turbines throughout the night.
              Clouds don't impact their generation much at all.

            • by dj245 (732906)
              This is actually very convenient! How much baking/TV/laundry are you doing at 4AM? People are most active with their electricity during the day (peak is usually around 4-5PM) and so is the sun.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by steelfood (895457)

              And when is electrical consumption the highest? In parts of the US, this is during the day (AC). In other parts, it is in the evening (lights).

              If the increased in demand caused by the former could be fulfilled by solar instead of gas/coal/oil, it would already be a major step.

          • by Don853 (978535) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:30PM (#23969053)
            That's not what they mean at all. What they mean is:

            We have a giant paperwork backlog and we're totally swamped. We're going to streamline the process. Don't give us anything new until we're done with that. In the meantime, we wouldn't have gotten to your new applications anyway.
            • by Locutus (9039) on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:33PM (#23971233)

              for TWO YEARS? I'm sorry but stopping all new solar projects from getting investment funding for 2 years is not a good move.

              What they should be doing is temporarily changing anything in their procedures which would force them to accept or decline an application in a certain period. Then notify all new applicants that there will be a delay and new guidelines are being defined so their application might need to be updated once the guidelines have been determined. Those in the queue will be processed in the order received with any applicant post-action required drops that applicant onto the secondary queue.

              stopping the industry's growth is foolish and just what I would expect from a government based on oil industry people. They gutted the hybrid vehicle program as soon as they took office in 2000 so if that isn't a clue to their motives there are probably a dozen more.

              LoB

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Don853 (978535)
                I may be totally misinterpreting the numbers in the article, but these are the specific passages I'm going by:

                Eleven concentrating solar plants are operational in the United States, and 20 are in various stages of planning or permitting, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

                and

                In the meantime, bureau officials emphasized, they will continue processing the more than 130 applications received before May 29, measuring each oneâ(TM)s environmental impact.

                It sounds to me like application b

    • by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann@slashdot.gmail@com> on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:39AM (#23968185) Homepage Journal

      This reminds me of code freeze cycles in open source projects... as annoying as they may be for developers (and some users), they're necessary.

    • by emagery (914122) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:57AM (#23968437)
      I agree that it isn't a BAD thing... what bothers me, though, is how many in our government are pushing oil and coal as being uber critical to american energy needs... so much so that environment corners cut are worth the price... but when an alternative to their bias comes up, it's time to throw up the red flags... this isn't to say that oil/coal don't get enviro'd up the yin-yang, but the one sided bias is upsetting for a pro-solar guy like myself.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by value_added (719364)

        I agree that it isn't a BAD thing... what bothers me, though, is how many in our government are pushing oil and coal as being uber critical to american energy needs... so much so that environment corners cut are worth the price.

        I'm not sure cutting corners is the right terminology, but insofar as critical infrastructure and price are concerned, a good example may be the EPA's fast tracking of the fence being built along the Mexican border (ostensibly to protect our jobs and Our American Way of Life).

        The cos

    • by thermian (1267986) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:01PM (#23968515)

      Absolutelly. lets not rush into a new energy source before finding out whether it'll screw us over in the long run.

      I can see the 'oil is evil' crowd getting annoyed at the delay, but we need to know what the effects of solar technology will be. For one thing the air around large solar plants may be significantly heated, raising the local temperature and damaging the environment immediatelly surrounding the plants.

      A small effect perhaps, but so was smoke, once....

      Whatever, this is a good move. I may be wrong about the local heating, there may be other dangers, or none at all. I'd prefer the facts came from a properly conducted study then the mouth of a solar power evangelist with passion but no facts supported by evidence.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        You are wrong about the local heating being a problem. Many cities are tens of square miles, and while they experience a heating effect, it is several degrees, not several tens of degrees.

        A light breeze has the effect of spreading the heat from a 1 mile zone across several cubic miles of air in an hour. Significant local heating would *generate* a breeze.

      • by olyar (591892) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:25PM (#23968949) Homepage Journal

        I would think that the air around a solar plant would actually be cooler, since the panels are converting solar energy into electric power and then transferring it to the grid.

        If that energy had not been captured, it would have heated the ground.

        My understanding is that the environmental impact issues of solar are focused more on the materials involved in manufacturing and/or disposing of solar panels.

      • by Sleepy (4551) on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:23PM (#23971055) Homepage

        Whatever, this is a good move. I may be wrong about the local heating, there may be other dangers, or none at all. I'd prefer the facts came from a properly conducted study then the mouth of a solar power evangelist with passion but no facts supported by evidence.

        How 'bad' would solar have to be to halt it? Would it need to be 50% as bad as fossil fuel? 75%? Twice as bad?

        I'd be more inclined to agree with your points - it's sound reasoning - except you are NOT applying it to ALL energy types, just the punk upstart. That's not sound.

        Given the huge expense of solar, we're not in danger of blanketing the SouthWest with solar panels anytime soon (although if we found more oil there, there's NO such hesitation in plastering it in oil wells).

        The science on solar right now is that it is among the safest and cleanest, period. It's NOT "new" by any stretch. If that's too good to be true, it can be studied while building new plants. There are plenty of economic brakes on solar right now to keep it from becoming a major portion of the grid.

        Like everything else the Bush administration does, this is designed to keep oil prices high. Right down to post 9-11 fights on better CAFE fuel standards, and fighting FOR tax credits on Hummers (which exceeded Prius tax credits by 40X!). I swear the only reason that devil hasn't threatened Dubai or Saudi Arabia with war is because he plans to RETIRE there.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sampson7 (536545)
        I think what many of find frustrating is that whatever bad environmental affects caused by solar plants are strictly localized to the immediate vicinity of the plant. What's the worst that could happen? A small portion of the planet is fouled.

        Compare that to the potential harm resulting from other sources of electrical generation, where the affects are literally global in scale.

        Even compared to the amount of space required for hydroelectric projects, the potential environmental harm is extremely lim
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cavis (1283146)
      I agree... the environmental impact study should have been done years ago. Wasn't solar power a big issue back in the 70's, even if just for a short while? So why wasn't this done before now? Why didn't the Bush administration Now that the US is struggling with its dependency on oil, corporations are pumping billions into alternatives... only to hit this roadblock? I shudder to think where gas and utility prices will be in two years.
    • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:56PM (#23969507)

      I think they need to SERIOUSLY consider what kind of trash these plants will be at end of life.
      I'm concerned about the amount of nano-particles being used.

      They need to do the same for CFL (which suck for lighting and may be an environmental catastrophe in the making).

  • by eln (21727) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:34AM (#23968097) Homepage

    People need the electricity. The BLM should only need to answer one question: Will the proposed solar energy plant harm the environment more than a natural gas/coal/oil plant would to produce the same amount of power? If not, let it be built.

    As a resident of Texas, I hate that we're building more and more coal-fired power plants when we have such abundant sun and wind out here that we could be using instead. Hell, I have to suffer through 2 months (and counting) of 100+ degree days, I'd like to at least be getting something out of all that sun other than dehydration and sunburn.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      The simple answer is that Coal is cheaper than wind and solar.
      Also solar takes up a HUGE amount of land. Not the small scale solar systems that people put on their roofs but the large ones that can replace power plants. BTW small home solar in not effected.
      Deserts look empty but they are actually one of the more fragile ecosystems.

      So you want solar and think it is a good idea put some panels up on your roof.

    • by indifferent children (842621) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:02PM (#23968525)
      I'd like to at least be getting something out of all that sun other than dehydration and sunburn.

      Well, if you can find some way to grant a monopoly to the oil companies on the harnessing of solar power, I'm sure we can clear-up these bureaucratic hurdles PDQ.

    • by Ngarrang (1023425)

      People need the electricity. The BLM should only need to answer one question: Will the proposed solar energy plant harm the environment more than a natural gas/coal/oil plant would to produce the same amount of power? If not, let it be built.

      There is the matter of the environmental impact on the fields that the panels would be installed, the digging and burying of wire, the materials used and the effect on the environment in the long-term exposure to said materials. Solar panels ain't exactly made of recyclable material these days.

    • There are certainly other concerns than comparing it to other plant types. In California, for example, some of the deserts are home to the threatened desert tortoise. Simply building a plant somewhere flat may put it in a nesting area. Depending on the plant type, there are differing support infrastructure requirements, including roads, power feeds, and water supplies, and the path that they take may again affect local wildlife, at least during construction.

      There are fewer concerns with the construction

    • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:22PM (#23968873) Homepage

      I have to suffer through 2 months (and counting) of 100+ degree days,

      This is probably a really dumb question, but as I Brit I have never figured out why settlers chose to live in America. I mean, the climate seems to spend half the year trying to KILL you. I've been to Boston in January and got snowed in my hotel with 6-foot/2-metre snowdrifts that arrived in ONE NIGHT. I've been to Houston in May and been stuck in my hotel lest the 48c/115f heat burn me to a frazzle. I went to California in February and they had to close the coastal highway because the sea had smashed it up.

      I don't doubt for a moment that the USA is a lovely place to live IF you have air conditioning and central heating, but when the first settlers turned up a few hundred years ago, long before climate control, exactly what made them think "This is place to live! This location is ideally suited! We shall search no further!"?

      Now I realise that the Pilgrims were essentially an extreme religious cult who got booted out of the Netherlands for being too nutty (and believe you me, the Netherlands is a pretty liberal place, getting kicked out of there really does take some doing - they must have been like Waco-quality loons). I know they also faced persecution in England for much the same thing. I also know that the British/Netherland climate of, essentially, rain rain rain, cloud, rain, does get a bit depressing, but at least the weather here never tries to KILL you. Any day of the year, anywhere in the country, you can step outside for the whole day and you won't die.

      Whereas the Pilgrims set up home in BOSTON for the WINTER?

      Then there's the wildlife. We don't have any dangerous wildlife, we shot it all, whereas you lot appear to have a country full of poisonous plants and poisonous/pointy-toothed predators. If the American weather isn't trying to kill you, there's some ivy or crocodile waiting to give you grievous pain.

      And then you sing songs about how great your country is. Sure, your people are virtually all fabulous (and anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn't met many of you personally), and ten out of ten for looking on the bright side of things, but your country is trying to kill you - how can that not introduce an element of self-doubt? How can you chaps be so religious when every time you step out of your house/car, some part of God's wonderful environment tries to nail you in the head?

      When it comes down to energy conservation, do you never hover your finger over the thermostat, hesitate and think "Wouldn't it be a lot more energy efficient if I lived somewhere else entirely?".

      (Iceland - it's the future of datacentres, believe you me.)

      • I'll take a crack (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tacokill (531275)
        I know you were joking but there is a serious answer to your question: Farming.

        If you have driven from NYC to California, you know what I mean. It is the richest farmland in the world. And we have entire states of it. 100's of thousands of square miles.

        Back in the "olden days", that probably looked like heaven compared to Ireland, Scotland, England, etc.

        "I'll take a sunburn and sweat if I can just keep my damn crops alive!!!!!"
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ColdWetDog (752185) *
        Just a hint:

        If you think the weather and animals in the US are dangerous,
        Don't ever, ever visit Australia.

      • by James McP (3700)

        Well, our country is like 30x larger than yours so we can have 30x as many crappy places to live and still have the same ratio of good/crap.

        Conversely, you can find almost any environment you like in the U.S.A. Like it hot and dry? Southwest. Hot and wet? Southeast. Tundra? Alaska. Sunrise on the ocean? Sunset on the Ocean? Rain forest? Get all three in Hawaii. Mountains? We've got a couple of ranges, take your pick. Valleys? Lots.

        And as far as why we're not riddled with self-doubt when the env

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Nice post.

        My ancestors (mostly scandinavian) came here to log and work in mines, much as they did back home. They were valued for their skill (as opposed to other groups which came here looking for work but without a skilled trade, or one that was useful in the area).

        Northern Minnesota looks and feels very much like scandinavia. Many within my family want to visit Finland, for example, but I really don't see the point- I'm sure the people are very nice there but if I'm going to spend that much money on a tr

  • goverment tit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If solar (or ethanol or wind or ... anything) is as good as people like to believe, it can survive without tax credits.
    • Re:goverment tit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:39AM (#23968193)

      But make sure the oil companies keep getting their tax subsidies. I mean, how do we expect these poor petro companies to compete with the market controlling renewable energy conglomerates?

  • ...the environmental impact of solar energy was already officially established as "groovy, man, groovy!"
  • I'm betting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Paranatural (661514) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:34AM (#23968111)

    Whoever makes it into the WH will make a big show of giving an executive order to open the applications back up. As to whether this is a good thing or not, I'm not so sure. Solar has been making some big strides, but if everyone is forced to wait a couple of years, who knows what may come out, and what the current implementers will learn in that time? It may just save two years of shitty implementations with obsolete-before-it's-built tech.

  • "overwhelmed by applications for large-scale solar energy plants".., that's good news. At least people are trying!

  • The government that governs least governs best, goddammit. Of course this will harm the industry; It's an artificially imposed market restriction!

    God forbid somebody do something without those geniuses at the government making sure it's ok first. Them being the kings of noticing unintended consequences in others' ideas. Oh wait...

    • by jonnythan (79727) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:45AM (#23968259) Homepage

      Well, the government tends to frown on corporations building power plants on public land without, you know, checking with them first.

      I think you don't understand what's going on here. The Bureau of Land Management is in charge of those vast stretches of deserted desert in the southwest. This isn't private land - indeed, the alternative to dealing with the BLM is to build on private land instead.

      These companies are submitting applications to get the BLM to let them build on public land. The BLM has to decide whether to let the applicant build power generation facilities on the particular piece of public land they're looking at. Oftentimes, many different applications will be submitted for the same patch of land, and BLM has to decide whether to let one build the proposed plant, or to hold out for something else.

      If you want to build some solar plant on your own private land, that's another matter, and you don't have to send an application to the BLM. There will be regulations and approvals and so forth, but you can still do it.

      There is no freeze on the building of all solar power generation stations - this is a freeze on applications for using public land managed by the BLM only.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        There is no freeze on the building of all solar power generation stations - this is a freeze on applications for using public land managed by the BLM only.

        s/managed/periodically clear-cut/

        HTH, HAND.

    • by AndersOSU (873247)

      Worked great for the investment banks.

  • Public Land (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:38AM (#23968177) Journal
    This is only for use of land owned by the Federal Government. You can still do whatever you want with private land, providing you have the proper zoning and building permits from the local government.

    I don't foresee many issues with local government in the middle of the desert.
    • I don't foresee many issues with local government in the middle of the desert.

      What, you don't think the 'middle of the desert' doesn't have a local (I.E. city/town) government? If it doesn't, then it has a country government. Neither level is going to be particularly likely to let plants go up willy-nilly without significant enviromental review. If they don't do the review, then the local Greens and their lawyers will ensure it happens.

      Another issue is just who owns huge chunks of land in the So [wordpress.com]

  • Ass backwards... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Capt James McCarthy (860294) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:41AM (#23968213) Journal

    Why don't they come up with the environmental criteria/requirements and state that the application submitter must complete the study and submit the findings with the application. If further study would be required, they could then investigate or push it back to the requesting company/agency.

  • by Space cowboy (13680) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:44AM (#23968255) Journal

    Personally I think it's probably better to distribute the power-generation facility onto the roofs of all the residents in these 'southwestern states'... Use the wasted space productively...

    • There's virtually no environmental impact, in fact you're helping the environment by reducing the load on the power stations
    • It actually reduces the need for air-conditioning - because a fair amount of the solar energy your roof would soak up is converted to electricity
    • The generation is local, so there's less loss as electricity is transported across the country
    • There are the mentioned rebates and tax credits to reduce the initial cost.

    I'm in the process of installing an 11.9 kW system on the roof of my home in CA. It's costing about $80k (of which I expect to get $12-16k back in rebates) , and it'll take my electricity bill down from $800/month to ~$100/month. Saving ~$700/month makes payback in ~8 years, and the panels have a 25-year lifespan (at which point they're at ~80% efficiency of day-1).

    Why cover the land ? Cover the roofs instead!

    Simon

    • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:54AM (#23968379) Homepage

      $800/month power bill?!

      Even in Nevada (Nevada Power has very high rates) I don't even know of anyone that comes close, even with a 7 SEER central air unit.

      Are you growing weed or something?

      With that kind of usage, I'd expect the DEA to come visit to make sure you're not!

      • by Space cowboy (13680) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:59AM (#23968469) Journal

        It's pretty easy - PG&E have a tiered cost-system, so it costs more as you use more. I've probably doubled my electricity use since it cost me $200/month, but the cost gets disproportionately higher.

        I have a pool (which has a pump that soaks up 40A) and I have air-conditioning which can do the same. Add the washer/dryer, pond pumps (another 5A) and general load (server in the garage, lighting, etc..) and I'm using ~80kWH/day.

        Hence the solar system :) Yes, this is CA, but no weed...

        Simon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Thelasko (1196535)

      Why cover the land ? Cover the roofs instead!

      I was once told this is because it devalues the property. It's a shame that other people don't think solar panels on a roof are attractive.

      On a side note, I would like to see solar panels installed over the vast stretches of parking lot we have in shopping malls, and amusement parks. It would produce electricity, and keep my car cooler in the summer.

      • by Space cowboy (13680) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:15PM (#23968739) Journal

        As part of the proposal, the company referenced the appraisal journal [ongrid.net] (warning: PDF) which establishes that the resale value of a home powered by solar energy increases by $20 for every $1 in saved operating costs. In my case, that adds $168k to the value of my home (on day-1, it gradually tails off over time). This is actually more than I pay for it!

        I think the argument goes that people can afford to spend more on the house because their energy bill will be lower every month - you're trading energy bill for mortgage payment... I'm not sure it makes sense to me, but the appraisers presumably read their own industry journal :)

        Simon

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Thelasko (1196535)
          I heard that about ten years ago. Back then solar panels were uglier, more expensive and not as efficient. Things have changed, being green is trendy at the moment. Back then, being green and saving money didn't offset the fact they were unsightly.
    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Good idea, my only question would be economies of scale, as well as liability. I think it's definitely worth crunching numbers on:

      1) is it more efficient to install (& maintain!) 1000 acres of 'solar farm' in one bulk lot or some otherwise nonproductive land (when you consider in the labor, time, cost, infrastructure) or 10,000 0.1 acre roofs? How "nonproductive" would the land have to be to make this value equation positive? I can easily see the infrastructure, labor, and maintenance far, far exceed

  • soak it up (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    enough electricity for 20 million average American homes

    Or about 1 million Al Gore [snopes.com] type homes.

    Oops - he made some improvements [tennesseepolicy.org] last year - so make that only 900,000 homes worth.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Space cowboy (13680)

      And yet, from the *same* article you linked to (yes, you actually have to *read* it all), his carbon-footprint per year is precisely zero. Can you say that ?

      Simon

  • Freeze? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DeadPanDan (1165901)
    Is there any way that it could be worse than coal? Do you need two years to answer this question?
  • by columbus (444812) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:52AM (#23968357)

    I don't know why this popped into my head.

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to speak to the Indians about building solar power plants on their land.

    We pushed them off of all the best land and consigned them to places that were arid and infertile. We consoled our consciences by telling ourselves by saying 'hey, we left them with a shitpile of land'. Of course the land wasn't good for anything . . . at least not then.

    Additionally, the Indian reservations are a perennial backwater, mired in poverty and desperately in need of external investment. An enterprising company may be able to get access to large amounts of sundrenched land it needs while the Indians get the external investment they need - a mutually beneficial commercial relationship.

    Also, the moratorium will tend to press potential investors away from public land and could give reservation based solar farms the chance to leapfrog development in other areas.

  • I am gapping I think.

    How will these solar installs (whether thermal or PV) possibly do more environmental damage than drilling more wells, burning coal, burning oil or dealing with the aftermath of a spent reactor?

    Unless I am missing something big, lets keep approving AS we do the study. Who is really this scared of Solar. Not us common folk! Is it the coal industry, oil, wind? It has to be somebody, because this does not seem to make sense.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Unless I am missing something big,

      You are missing something big. The Endangered Species Act. It is a violation of Federal Law to even TOUCH an Endangered Animal (with the usual exceptions for scientific research), much less to build something where it lives.

      For a start.

      I'd also like to point out that OTHER options, such as nuclear power plants, don't get convenient fill-in-the-blanks Environmental Impact Templates - everything but Solar has to do its EIS from scratch, rather than follow some pre-approve

  • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintiumNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:02PM (#23968517)

    hmmm I wonder if someone "important"
    http://redgreenandblue.org/2008/06/15/senator-attacks-solar-energy-industry/ [redgreenandblue.org]
    isn't ready to get in line so they
    http://green.bligblog.com/oil-companies-and-solar-energy-682.html [bligblog.com]
    are slowing down applications until that "person"
    http://thepanelist.com/Hot_Topics/Alternative_Energy/_200805271019/ [thepanelist.com]
    is ready.

  • This is the same regulatory framework that stymied geothermal development in the 1990s, and a favored control mechanism by the environmentalist lobbies. They have made it very difficult to develop in the western deserts for other people, they just never expected it to impact their pet projects. An introductory course on unintended consequences.

    The oil and gas development bit is a red herring, as mineral extraction (e.g. oil and gas development) is specially protected by very old Federal statutes that mitig

  • Is it too much to ask to get rid of the freaking "power xxx homes" nonsense and put things in terms of MW or MWh?!

    This is supposed to be news for nerds, not news for soccer moms whose only perspective on life and electricity is their own home! (Small subset of soccer moms, that is.)

  • Interesting Timing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sherriw (794536) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:27PM (#23969007)

    I find it interesting that this 'necessary delay' is happening right at the same time that Bush is pushing for oil development in more ecologically sensitive areas like Alaska. Is he hoping the delay will make oil exploration more necessary, or that the public will get the impression that there are big enviro concerns regarding solar power? When people read that the gov has halted something to 'investigate environmental concerns', they assume that there must be some concerns in the first place.

    I'm not saying there aren't enviro considerations with solar- but why wasn't this done years ago? And why not study solar projects already up and running? The timing is interesting is all I'm saying. And two years!? Give me a break.

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Friday June 27, 2008 @04:29PM (#23973355)
    I guess the deserts are populated with rock-huggers, so we have to ensure that these solar projects don't damage the rocks in Arizona...

"Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward" -- William E. Davidsen

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