Monday, June 24, 2024

Use solar energy, kill a tortoise? Local weather change resolution carries environmental prices


Dustin Mulvaney, professor of environmental studies at SJSU, stands at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 2, 2024. Mulvaney believes California has more than enough alternative space, including parking lots. , contaminated soil and other areas, eliminating the need for large solar arrays in clean areas such as the Mojave Desert.  (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
Dustin Mulvaney, SJSU environmental research professor, stands on the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 2, 2024. Mulvaney believes California has greater than sufficient various house, together with parking tons. , contaminated soil and different areas, eliminating the necessity for giant photo voltaic arrays in clear areas such because the Mojave Desert. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

Turn in your toaster, bulldoze a Joshua tree. Flip the sunshine change, feed an endangered tortoise to a badger.

Solar energy, broadly seen as humanity’s finest hope for avoiding catastrophic local weather change, can carry a heavy environmental price, relying on the place the panels and features are made. within the transmission.

Some of that infrastructure — which offers electrical energy to tens of millions of Californians — goes the place it should not, stated San Jose State University environmental research professor and sustainable power professional Dustin Mulvaney. . Killing vegetation and animals, after all, will not be a purpose for photo voltaic builders, however the collateral harm has sparked a bitter debate about the place the panels and features belong.

California has performed a superb job defending its public lands whereas facilitating photo voltaic improvement, Mulvaney stated. But many residents energy their properties with electrical energy from Nevada, the place pure areas have been hit hardest, and from non-public, California initiatives in essential animal habitats and plant, he stated.

Several “aggregators” — community-based options to utility giants typically marketed as “clear” — have contracts for energy from a challenge in Southern California that can see 4,000 Joshua bushes flattened, he stated. Some aggregators’ feeding initiatives have led to important lack of wildlife habitat.

Mulvaney believes that sacrificing the surroundings for photo voltaic is pointless. California may meet its electrical energy wants by putting in photo voltaic panels on one-tenth of contaminated websites, previous mines, idle farms, parking tons and different disturbed areas, he stated. “We have to construct our energy transmission infrastructure to the websites,” Mulvaney stated. The extra photo voltaic close to massive city areas, the higher, he added. Every dwelling and warehouse within the Amazon presents a distinct rooftop-solar alternative, he stated.

This information group sat down with Mulvaney not too long ago to debate solar energy. The interview has been edited for size and readability.

Q: Describe the controversy over the place to find photo voltaic era services?
A: Most massive photo voltaic farms will not be controversial. They grow to be controversial once they go to landscapes which are essential, both ecologically important or culturally essential – typically containing essential cultural sources for the tribes.

Q: Do we’d like rooftop photo voltaic and utility-scale photo voltaic?
A: We want extra rooftops, however we’d like extra utility scale primarily based on the best way our grid is constructed.

Q: Why do we have now photo voltaic developments and proposals for clear areas, when the already modified land is there?
A: Transmission traces are why we see initiatives the place they’re. Back within the ’60s we constructed transmission traces to connect with coal-fired energy vegetation within the western United States. While the coal-fired energy vegetation had been shut down, these transmission traces abruptly had energy availability. The (deliberate new) Greenlink transmission line that can join Las Vegas and Reno will go by a Native American website and thru a set of delicate ecosystems. And we’re already seeing functions for photo voltaic farms alongside the transmission hall. That can be energy going to California, perhaps. Nevada has little safety for its public lands.

Q: What roles do massive utilities like PG&E and Southern California Edison play when photo voltaic farms go up?
A: Community selections aggregators play a higher position than utilities in figuring out these improvement patterns as we speak. Community choice aggregators do a lot of the (energy) shopping for. For the Yellow Pine photo voltaic farm on the Nevada border (to provide electrical energy for Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Central Coast Community Energy), many desert tortoises needed to be faraway from the world. Forty-one of the turtles had been instantly eaten by the badgers.

Q: Can we meet our electrical energy wants with out massive photo voltaic farms?
A: There isn’t any concept that prohibits photo voltaic and rooftop batteries from powering a group. Do you have got sufficient solar? We have repeated winter storms. Sometimes the cloud covers all the Central Valley. Do you have got sufficient battery? Battery storage in all probability makes it dearer at this stage. We have to rethink how we train energy.

Q: What will we lose by placing massive photo voltaic farms within the desert?
A: All sorts of species, previous progress barrel cactus, desert tortoise, package fox. The desert tortoise was final week up-listed by the California Department of Fish and Game as endangered. That species has misplaced 90% of its inhabitants since 1980. Bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope are affected by photo voltaic farms as a result of their habitat is fragmented. Their populations are extra remoted, they’ve inbreeding.

Q: Can we meet all our wants with out placing photo voltaic within the undisturbed wilderness?
A: There is an effective research. You can keep away from essential lands to preserve and it’ll solely enhance the price of electrical energy by 3%, primarily based on their estimates.

Q: Where are some locations the place you’ll be able to put an affordable quantity of photo voltaic era to assist keep away from bringing energy from the desert or Nevada?
A: In the western a part of the Central Valley, many of those soils are contaminated with selenium. That may be an space the place you’ll be able to have much less affect. That’s the place you place the massive utility scale initiatives which are actually near the Bay Area, and above the bottleneck – California has a (energy line capability) bottleneck for electrical energy, round Los Banos. We have to construct extra renewables above the bottleneck in northern California to assist the Bay Area.

Q: What about Southern California?
A: You have already got numerous renewables in Southern California. Southern California simply wants extra rooftop photo voltaic on their warehouses and issues like that.

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