Thursday, April 1, 2010

A desert solar project that I can support

This project is located in Riverside County out close to the Arizona
border near the former California town of Rice which disappeared
years ago. It is right off State Route 62 on the site of a former air
force base during World War 2. The project will be sited on disturbed
now privately owned land and is not part of any conservation area,
nor is controlled by state or federal agencies.

The Rice Solar Energy Project will be located on around 1400 acres
and will use concentrated solar to heat up a liquid salt thermal fluid
and will be able to utilize heat storage technology. This technology
was first used in the Daggett solar project near Barstow which has since
been decommissioned. The technology is now exclusively licensed to
Solar Reserve which is the parent to Rice Solar Energy.

There will be a circular field of around  17,500 tracking heliostat mirrors
around a energy receiving tower which will house the receiver holding
the liquid salt which will go through a heating and cooling process, all to
power a net 150MW steam turbine generator system, which should be
able to provide around 450,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy
to the California grid.

I like the project for a variety of reasons. First, it is built on private land
that has had hard use in the past. This is not pristine taxpayer owned
desert land here.
Plus, I seem to recall reading some place that the
company isn’t seeking any sort of loan guarantee from we, the taxpayers.
They believe with their technology which uses energy storage, will allow
the plant to generate power even after the sun goes down, when the grid
needs it most, and the price paid for it is higher. And this technology was
proven at the Solar Two project near Barstow.

I noted with interest as I read through the project information, that no intervenors
are listed anywhere, which I take to mean is tacit acceptance for the project,
or at least, no outright opposition. The only real controversy I am aware of
involves the building of a 10 mile transmission line hookup that is required to
get the power into the grid and that will follow an existing dirt road for around
5 miles or so. There will have to be mitigation efforts here as the line will cross
BLM land that may house DT’s or other rare species.

There are a few DT’s and possibly burrowing owls and  possibly a loggerhead shrike
on the site per surveys that have been conducted and mitigation measures are
being recommended as part of the NEPA process. There may rare plant issues
to be mitigated as well. These issues are serious and will have to resolved to
ensure that no endangered animals are killed or injured during construction.

This really is where the rubber hits the road. All along, some people have said power
plants should be built on disturbed private land instead of government owned
pristine desert. Of course, I, for one, also said the projects ideally should be near
the urban areas and close to consumption, but you can’t get everything you want
sometimes, this project has the potential to get online relatively quickly plugging
many megawatts of reliable power into the grid, without much chance that the
project might get derailed by a law suit.

I Also noted that some vegetation may be allowed to remain in the heliostat field,
however, no animals will be left inside as they will be fenced out.

Also for your information, the company decided to go with air cooling, not wet cooling,
which should substantially reduce the water required to run the plant, I believe
the estimate of annual water use will be around 180 acre feet, which is low compared
to some of the other technologies planned to be deployed soon.

There will be visual effects on the area, as there will be at any of these sites, I did
notice though that the layout is such, that glare effects may be lessened to folks
driving by on SR 62.But it’s kind of hard to not see a 650’ tower when you’re looking
across the desert especially when it’s surrounded by heliostatic mirror formations, I
must admit.

Some new readers of my blog may be surprised by this post, but long time readers
know that I have been favorable of at least one large scale solar site already in
the short history of this blog. I dare to say that if this project had been proposed
outside of a desert town closer to the megalopolis, on similar private, junk land
and with similar other concerns, I’d probably be #90 in line endorsing it.

So in my opinion, this project, for the above reasons and others which I am sure
I will remember later(why don’t I start writing these ideas down?) should be allowed to
go through and be built.

Folks, let us know what you think about this Rice Solar or any other issue facing
the deserts today. Your opinion is always welcomed out on the backporch.


Followup to this post which was written last night with Windows Live Writer.

After sleeping on it, here are a couple of thoughts.

Speaking as a blogger, some might say just a touch outspoken at times, there may
be a tendency to either rock the boat or not. I decided a long time ago, I am not
going to worry about that. As I have stated many, many times- I’m just an old bus
driver who goes in circles most days near Disneyland. A talking head or pundit or
big brain, I am not. But I do have some common sense and a little education and have
always read and understood what I’ve read at a higher level than my peers for as
long as I can remember, going back over 40 years. And even though I don’t practice,
I understand politics a little bit as well.

Here’s the politics as this old country boy sees it out on his backporch. Everybody
from the Prez on down to the unemployed electrician or construction worker out
in Blythe, is looking at this green energy as a jobs ticket, a meal ticket, one looks
at spreadsheets and math models, the other at his crying kid going to sleep with
hunger, or about to be. That’s just the way it is.

So we bloggers and others who care about the protection of the Mojave and other
desert ecosystems, need to be aware of that. Trust me when I say I get it, I may
not have a job myself much longer, thanks to Disney awarding the new parking lot
contract to another firm, with the proviso that hiring be given first to laid off drivers
from the local transit agency- heck, I am already getting my “will drive a bus for food”
sign ready ;-)

So we have to pick our projects to make our stand over carefully. I seem to recall
an earlier post where I compared it to a chess game. BrightSource Ivanpah, a no
brainer to me. I, for the life of me, can not understand why the Sierra Club is sitting
on their hands on the sideline on that project. Can’t they see that mega project’s
location, and in conjunction with NextLight and the cargo airport proposal, is the key
to the whole eastern Mojave desert and will inevitably lead to total fragmentation of
desert tortoise habitat in that area, just for one example? And to the end result, the end
of the Ivanpah Valley and the Mojave as we know them, wild and free?

That’s my thought process, as far as this Rice project goes, go through the process,
and build it quickly and safely, and good luck to them, and thanks for building it on
a brown area, not on pristine public land, and many, many thanks for going with the
dry cooling process, saving that precious desert ground water for  the animals and
plants and man as well.


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