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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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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 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.

  • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @11:57AM (#23968433) Journal

    Or, you can build a giant greenhouse, in the shape of a dome. Leave it open around the bottom rim, and put a hollow tower in the middle, with intakes at the bottom, and with the top uncapped and protruding through the top of the greenhouse.

    The solar energy will create a temperature difference between the external air and the internal air, causing air to be drawn in through the bottom edges of the dome and vented through the tube out the top.

    All you need to do is stick wind turbines in the tower.

    You'd be preventing direct rainfall, but you could harvest and channel the run-off anywhere you wanted. That means, depending on the location, it might be practical to have irrigated farmland underneath your solar generation plant. You could even stick homes in there.

  • 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.

  • by sgt scrub ( 869860 ) < minus punct> on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:02PM (#23968517)

    hmmm I wonder if someone "important" []
    isn't ready to get in line so they []
    are slowing down applications until that "person" []
    is ready.

  • by cavis ( 1283146 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:12PM (#23968681)
    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 Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:15PM (#23968739) Journal

    As part of the proposal, the company referenced the appraisal journal [] (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 :)


  • 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 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 OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:52PM (#23969433) Homepage

    The main problem is the space required for solar power. To generate the amount of power used by america using currently feasible (economically feasible) solar panels (5-8% efficiency) in the regions that America has you'd need between 300 and 500% of the American soil. (they also cost a lot more than feasible, but since democrats totally ignore economics, let's do it too, and let's say ... uhm ... that america will print the necessary money)


    Now you might think, cool, let's wait till 100% ... unfortunately, and allowing for massive projects on water, we need to wait for it to drop below 40% before it can be feasibly used to generate power.

    Let's not forget that you have day-night, summer-winter, and the higher the longitude, the less sun you'll collect. A 100% efficient solar panel in New York will generate about 55% of it's rated wattage on average.

    Note that if you start building solar panels now, they will obviously be of the inefficient kind, meaning they cost space, and will either have to be redone in a few years, or they will eat into available land. And let's not forget that despite every american apparently trying to lose weight, they do eat, obviously necessitating a large amount of agriculture, which eats space, lots and lots of space.

    Obviously neither oil, nor nuclear have this problem (wind, however, does have that problem). Oil requires some surface area, but not significant amounts. Nuclear requires 800 square meters per gigawatt. Enough said.

    Solar requires more surface area than we have. It's a no-go until cheap panels are ~ 60% efficient, and even then it will require the clearing of massive stretches of land.

    For obvious reasons nothing will grow below a solar panel.

    So ... even with those panels working optimally the question will remain ... several states worth of surface area will have to be stripped of every last feature, every last plant, every last animal ... which ones ?

  • 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 value_added ( 719364 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @12:57PM (#23969519)

    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 cost to the environment: undefined.
    The cost of additional new voters: literally priceless.

  • 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

  • by DustoneGT ( 969310 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:32PM (#23970191)
    Have you ever looked at a land-ownership map of the Southwest? There are vast swaths of public land with little spots of private ownership, mostly in the populated areas.

    There isn't enough private land in the Southwest to meet solar energy needs.
  • by eherot ( 107342 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @01:45PM (#23970431)
    Funny. When they wanted to put the fence along the Mexican border on the fast-track to completion, they managed to find a way around environmental regulations for that [].
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:00PM (#23970717) Homepage Journal

    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 mean just driving a car with a 200 mile range fr a while, but I suspect that range would increase when all car engineers are focused on that problem instead of fuel efficiency.

  • 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.

  • Re:aaahh, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @02:25PM (#23971087) Homepage

    But I'm sure you've known a lot of activists personally and have direct experience with their activities, or you wouldn't have made such sweeping generalizations, right?

    I wouldn't say that I know many, but that's mainly because it typically doesn't take me long to assess them and write them off as uneducated and unrecoverably biased. I do know a few and I've met a lot. Of course, it all depends on your definition - I only know one guy who takes it to the point of marching around with signs, but I know & assist a few who are the write letters/circulate petitions/work on city council types. Maybe the 'activists' you associate with are just coming from a very different pool than mine.

    That doesn't describe a single activist that I've known.

    Come to Los Alamos, NM on August 6 [] - I'll introduce you to hundreds. Last year I listened to a very well-received speech from a guy who had served overseas. He lost his son to leukemia not long after returning. Absolutely fucking tragic - I felt for him. The kicker was that he (and based on comments I heard in the crowd, many others) believed that the leukemia was a result of him being exposed to depleted uranium in the field and carrying back radiation that infected his son. He punctuated that point by pointing out the extremely long half-life of DU. The notion that radiation from DU could be carried back and induce leukemia coupled with the idea that a long half-life corresponds to high levels of radioactivity can only be produced by extreme levels of both ignorance and bias.

    You wanted an argument? Oh, I'm sorry, but this is abuse...

    I notice that your post and your sig are highly correlated...

  • by greyhueofdoubt ( 1159527 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @04:17PM (#23973095) Homepage Journal

    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 trip I don't want to look at the same pine trees, wildlife, and snow that I could see out my own window. No offense, Finland. In fact, the Finnish president was just here for Finland Days last week I believe.

    So me, I'm kind of stuck here because my great-great-great grandfather and mother came here to find good work and cheap land, and now my entire extended family lives within 100 miles of my city (with a few exceptions). I could leave but I feel a sense of duty to people who love me to stick around. Besides, it's beautiful here. The air in the morning smells like perfume, the water tastes sweet, and the sunsets could blow you away. The 100 degree/99% humidity days are made up for by the -50 degree (plus windchill) days. And both of those days are outweighed by being able to have a beer on my back porch in fantastic weather and watch everything from deer to groundhogs traipse through my yard.


  • by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Friday June 27, 2008 @08:16PM (#23976059)

    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 ?

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva