By Rebecca Smith – Wall Street Journal

Reprint from December 22, 2009

BARSTOW, Calif. — A California senator’s move Monday to put more than one million acres of the Mojave Desert off limits to development is spotlighting a clash between two prime goals of environmentalists.

Before Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation to create the Mojave Trails National Monument and other protected wilderness areas, solar-power developers had submitted nearly two dozen proposals since 2006 for projects that would make the Southern California desert the biggest solar farm on Earth.

California has set an ambitious target of garnering one-third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. That has sparked a renewable-development boom as utilities sign contracts for everything from solar farms to geothermal plants. It also has made it easier for developers to secure financing.

But some of the land solar developers consider prime real estate also is prized by conservationists who want to preserve unspoiled stretches of unique desert, such as the Sleeping Beauty Valley and Marble Mountains in the Mojave.

The conflicting visions for the Mojave are part of a broader struggle playing out as the nation embarks on a renewable-energy push. In Kansas, some of the last tall-grass prairie habitat could be threatened by wind farms in the Flint Hills area. More than 96% of tall-grass prairie has been destroyed. Critics say wind turbines not only have a visual impact on the landscape, but also require extensive road construction.

Mrs. Feinstein’s Mojave bill would protect 1.7 million acres of desert, while still allowing current recreational uses. The biggest piece would form the Mojave Trails National Monument, at 941,000 acres, east of Los Angeles along a 105-mile stretch of historic Route 66. It also would create the Sand to Snow National Monument on 134,000 acres of federal land near Palm Springs, and would put additional acreage under wilderness protection, including important animal-migration corridors.

Mrs. Feinstein is a longtime supporter of desert preservation who sponsored the 1994 California Desert Protection Act that turned the nearby Death Valley and Joshua Tree wilderness areas into national parks. Once word spread that she was trying to protect another stretch of desert in the Mojave, some developers began to rethink their plans.

Tessera Solar, a Houston developer, dropped plans to develop a 5,000-acre site in the Mojave, “knowing Sen. Feinstein was moving forward with her bill,” a company spokeswoman said.

BrightSource Energy signed power-purchase agreements with Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a unit of PG&E Corp., for 2,600 megawatts of power it intends to furnish from numerous desert sites beginning in 2013.

John Woolard, chief executive of BrightSource, said Mrs. Feinstein “got quite upset” when she learned development was proposed on some pristine tracts under federal control. His company decided to forgo plans to build a solar project in the Broadwell Dry Lake area that would be within the proposed monument boundaries. However, he warned that putting parts of the Mojave off limits “would push solar farms out of state.”

Others have also complained that California’s aggressive renewable-energy target, combined with tough land-protection laws, could end up sparking a renewable-energy boom in neighboring Nevada or Arizona.

Mrs. Feinstein’s bill attempts to find common ground between developers and those who support renewable energy. Although it prohibits energy development within the monument area, the bill includes provisions that would allow faster and cheaper development of private lands. Instead of taking seven to nine years to do endangered-species act reviews on private land, renewable-energy developers would qualify for reviews taking 18 months to three years.

California’s own analysis shows it needs 128,000 acres of desert terrain to fulfill the state mandate for a big boost in utility-scale solar projects. But there currently are projects proposed that would utilize nearly a million acres.

David Myers, the executive director of Wildlands Conservancy, the chief critic of Mojave development, said the legislation is “fantastic” because it redirects activity from sensitive areas to land that already has been degraded by prior use, such as cattle grazing or alfalfa cultivation. His organization donated 600,000 acres in the Mojave to the federal government in stages from 1999 to 2003, with the understanding that it would be permanently protected. Mr. Myers was furious when applications began pouring into the Bureau of Land Management seeking permission to develop it into renewable-energy parks — as though there were no prior understanding.

The Mojave is particularly attractive because it not only offers nearly uninterrupted days of bright sunshine in a sparsely populated area, but lies near a major electric-transmission corridor from California to Nevada.

“We don’t have to sacrifice our national treasures for renewable energy,” Mr. Myers said. “We need both.”


World Focus produced a story on the use of sustainability platforms in the construction of homes in Copenhagen, Denmark. I have always heard of the concept being in a position of having your power meter to “spin backwards”. One actually gets to see this occur in this story. How would you like to have a monthly energy bill of $15? Many countries are adopting these practices at a fast pace. In the US, there are regions that are starting to support sustainability.

Housing developments in Denmark slash energy use with sustainable engineering

sustainable engineering with world focus

World Focus in copenhagen - sustainable engineering with msmf

Visit Sustainable NC Business Council Discussion Forum

Google Sketch-up is an excellent tool / software package for engineers to use to evaluate and study sustainable practices in designing buildings. View this video to get an idea of how Google Sketch-up works.

Biogas: How it works

Here is another excellent explanation of the bio-gas production process by Greenpeace.

Biogas typically refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. Comprised primarily of methane and carbon dioxide, biogas originates from biogenic material and is a type of biofuel. It's a product of the anaerobic digestion or fermentation of biodegradable materials such as manure or sewage, and can be used in CHP plants
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Here is an excellent explanation of what bio-gas is how how the process works.

http://www.anaerobic-digestion.com An explanation of the Anaerobic Digestion Biogas Digester Process which produces biogas (methane), and is a sustainable renewable energy process capable of reducing carbon emissions, and slowing climate change.
Views: 70944
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Time: 04:49 More in Science & Technology

Check out this Globe and Mail article “Sunshine, sewage to power cities of the future” at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/sunshine-sewage-to-power-cities-of-the-future/article1382788/?service=email.

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