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US Halts Applications For Solar Energy Projects 481

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. []
  • 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.
  • Re:soak it up (Score:3, Informative)

    by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:52AM (#23968363) Journal

    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 ?


  • 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...


  • by Spazntwich ( 208070 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:01PM (#23968507)

    I'm sorry, are you arguing that large investment banks are/were unregulated and ungoverned?

    That's hilarious.

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:18PM (#23968783) Homepage Journal

    "Deserts are not desirable ecosystems. They are what happens when you push a healthy ecosystem to the point of collapse. Over time and without human interference all deserts should shrink (this may require one or more ice age/warm period cycles, however.)"
    There have been Deserts for a very long time long before man had any real impact on the environment.
    As to how desirable they are? Well to some life forms they are very desirable, to other not so much.
    Your statements on the "value" of deserts is just nuts.

  • by Smauler ( 915644 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:23PM (#23968911)

    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 Zymergy ( 803632 ) * on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:25PM (#23968945)
    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 example..
  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:27PM (#23969009)

    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-approved document.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:38PM (#23969181)

    As far as regions go, North America (except those frozen canucks way up there near the pole!) is pretty moderate. Sure, it gets a little warm down south, but nothing compared to the many nations that are centered on the equator. Sure there's some nasty animals, but it's not exactly a jungle. Yeah, occasionally you get a pile of snow dropped on you up north, but nobody ever mistook Boston for northern Russia. In fact, people have posited that one reason for the enormous growth of American capital in the early history of the United States was the wide variety of terrain and environment, almost all of which is pretty easily adjusted to.

    If you think that California's oceans are trying to kill you, you apparently missed the past few years of typhoons and monsoons in Asia. If you think that Texas is hot, you've never been to Australia on a hot day. If you think that Boston is cold enough to kill, you weren't paying attention to the thousands dying in Central Asia this past winter. And if you think that _America_ has dangerous fauna... you've never heard of say.. Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, South America, and so on.

    As for datacenter locations, Iceland has the disadvantage that it's hard for the Avian Carriers to make those long flights across the ocean - the ping time on my IP-over-pigeon is just terrible!

  • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:21PM (#23969969)
    A concentrating solar thermal plant uses zero solar panels.
  • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:28PM (#23970115) Homepage

    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).

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:32PM (#23970195)

    Where are you getting your numbers from?

    Back of the envelope, at 500 watt hours per square meter per day, I get a surface area of about 1 million square kilometers (assuming relatively flat consumption of 5e11 kilowatt hours per day). So at 250 watts per square meter per day, that's 2 million square kilometers, and at 1 kilowatt per square meter per day, it is 500,000 square kilometers.

    It's a huge amount of land, but even at 250 watt hours per square meter, it doesn't jibe with 300-500% of American soil, it is 3 or 4 Arizonas or maybe 2 Texases.

  • by rocketPack ( 1255456 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:42PM (#23970395)

    Solar power companies are worried that this will harm the industry just as it is poised for explosive growth.

    Wasn't it explosive growth of the oil industry without proper environmental research and oversight what got us into this mess in the first place?

    Any company that says "I don't like the government employing restrictions in the name of environmental protection" is clearly not a company I want to support, and this is surprising to hear coming from a SOLAR POWER companies who are supposed to be our allies in the GLOBAL WAR ON ENVIRONMENTAL TERROR (or whatever we're calling it today).

  • by DeadCatX2 ( 950953 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:48PM (#23970487) Journal

    since democrats totally ignore economics, let's do it too, and let's say ... uhm ... that america will print the necessary money

    Sounds like the Republican approach to war.

    Remember - it's not Democrats vs. Republicans, or Liberals vs. Conservatives. It's People vs. Corporations.

  • by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:53PM (#23970585) Homepage

    Your numbers are so far off that it is ridiculous. "5-8%" panel efficiency? Off-the-shelf consumer panels are triple or quadruple that.

    And the amount of land required by your calculation is just silly. As another poster points out... even using your lowball 8% efficiency estimate, we'd need only 5% of the US land area to power the entire world. Obviously, powering the entire US would be quite a bit lower than that, and real-world panels are many times more efficient. We'd need only a fraction of a percent of our total land area to power our usage, and we have a couple of immense stretches of sunny desert conveniently located in the southwest.

  • 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..


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


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

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT 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 Hemogoblin ( 982564 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:25PM (#23971085)

    Don't be so pessimistic. Solar power, and other renewable energies, are starting to get some real momentum. The Economist has a "special report" in the June 21st issue with tons of articles on the subject.

    This the first article []in the issue, and this is the one on solar power []. Click on the little "next article" at the bottom of each page to go through it. I don't think a subscription is required, since I'm not logged in and I can see it.

    Here's a exerpt:

    The engineers clearly think they can deliver the technology. But can the technology deliver the power? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that it can. Two years ago a task force put together by the governors of America's western states identified 200 gigawatts-worth of prime sites for solar-thermal power within their territory (meaning places that had enough reliable sunshine, were close to transmission lines and were not environmentally or politically sensitive). That is equivalent to 20% of America's existing electricity-generation capacity: not a bad start.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:57PM (#23971653)



    As detailed in an earlier article, a conservative calculation is that at least 60% of today's $128 per barrel price of crude oil comes from unregulated futures speculation by hedge funds, banks and financial groups using the London ICE Futures and New York NYMEX futures exchanges and uncontrolled inter-bank or Over-The-Counter trading to avoid scrutiny. US margin rules of the government's Commodity Futures Trading Commission allow speculators to buy a crude oil futures contract on the Nymex, by having to pay only 6% of the value of the contract. At today's price of $128 per barrel, that means a futures trader only has to put up about $8 for every barrel. He borrows the other $120. This extreme "leverage" of 16 to 1 helps drive prices to wildly unrealistic levels and offset bank losses in sub-prime and other disasters at the expense of the overall population

  • by Don853 ( 978535 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:59PM (#23971693)
    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.


    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 backlog outnumbers the approved projects by more than 4 to 1, which I'm guessing means that the backlog will last them more than the two year moratorium they have on new apps and hence won't slow the rate of approvals or industry growth at all, while giving them time to create a better standard process for approvals. Additionally, remember this particular piece of the bureaucracy is only concerned with projects on federal land, so any on private land can continue totally unconcerned.

    I would love to see it done faster, but I just don't see this as a big deal.

    As a side note, they gutted the hybrid vehicle program in 2000? Do you mean the end of tax breaks for hybrids?

  • by ahfoo ( 223186 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @04:10PM (#23972963) Journal

    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 easily be scaled to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of tons of storage primarily using on-site materials. It's an extremely efficient and low cost storage solution and depending upon the scale of the installation can provide hours to days of power without any sun. Since solar thermal sites are typically situated in areas of high insolation such as deserts, a condition were days passed without sun would be extremely rare. Thus, this is indeed a technical replacement for baseline power such as coal or nuclear.

    The leader in the market for nitrate salts used in thermal storage applications, yes there's already a market in these things, is a product called HitecXL. I encourage you to google for it and inform yourself on this topic before you continue advising people about the "huge drawbacks".

  • Limited? (Score:3, Informative)

    by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <> on Saturday June 28, 2008 @12:29AM (#23977947) Homepage Journal

    "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 here in the US. And that doesn't include all of the other fossil fuel sources we have, like shale and tar sands and good ole' petroleum. We also have a lot of uranium untouched in North America.

    So by all means, advocate that we continue to develop tech like solar and wind. By all means, argue against fossil fuel use on pollution grounds. But quit using the chicken little argument about fossil fuels being close to all used up. It simply isn't true when you look at all fossil fuels, even if you believe we've hit peak oil.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Saturday June 28, 2008 @08:35PM (#23986287)

    It isn't true that "oil deposits in US federal reserves forbidden for drilling could supply the entire world demand for close to 500 years". Total US oil reserves are less than 3% of the world oil reserves, and could supply just the U.S. needs, if somehow we magically extracted all of them instantly, for about 3-4 years. So maybe if you factor in a bunch of new discoveries 10, even 20 might be plausible, but hardly 500.

If you want to put yourself on the map, publish your own map.