Feds plan huge solar power in deserts

Credit: mojave.usgs.gov

I’m increasingly of two minds about the massive and relentless push for big solar power in deserts. Sure, we need renewable energy and lots of it, but on 19 million acres in the Mojave?

Incentives to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of U.S. land in the West will be offered and an additional 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert opened for new facilities.

This will change the Mojave forever. All that solar will need many roads and transmission lines to support it. The wildlife and habitat can not survive as is with such disruptions. Some may think the desert is useless and barren. It’s not. Rather, the desert is full of life and almost certainly does important things that we will only notice after we’ve changed it forever. Because that’s exactly what will happen.

Also, these projects are being proposed at precisely the same time that the Obama Administration is imposing punitive tariffs on solar panels imported from China, something that will increase costs of such projects dramatically.


  1. This is yet another absurd manifestation of “bigger is better” theory. Considering the loss of power over long distance transmission, these plants will be inevitably inefficient. John Robb’s call for resilient communities as a basic security measure also makes economic and political sense (at least for those of us outside boardrooms and the Beltway). Generate the power where it is needed, from the resources available. True there’s not much sun in the northeast, for example, but there is wind and tide. And for God’s sake, let’s start conserving that 70% of our energy that goes to waste!

    But our central government and its corporate cronies, desperate to prove themselves relevant to our lives, continue to promote an economy of consumption that rewards (who would have guessed it?) themselves. Conservation? Naw, we need more coal plants…

    • California has mandated 33% renewable energy by 2020, and the energy must be produced in-state. Thus, these big solar plants will have captive customers.

      • While this may be sustainable in today’s consumption-based economy, in the long run we either have to change that model or die. The proposed installations would generate 34 GW of electricity. The average transmission loss is 7%, so we can expect 2.4GW in losses. Depending on whose numbers you use, the power being lost would have supported 600,000 homes. It will lose enough to power half the City of Los Angeles. How can we justify losses like that? (I suspect that the distance will be longer than average, so losses may actually be higher.)

        It’s worth noting that the same amount of power (2.4 GW) would power 1.4 million – more than twice as many – European homes. They are smaller and less consumptive. Which tells us that conservation *is* possible, we just don’t like to talk about it. On average, our homes use more than twice as much electricity as theirs do. That means we need twice as much generating capacity to support the same amount of population. Yet we don’t look at the demand problem, only the supply. As our world heats up, that’s just plain insane. Seriously: cut our electricity use in half, and we could shut down every coal plant in the country with no replacements. But the sad fact is, we don’t really want to because building power plants creates jobs, and politically, a job today is more important than a life tomorrow.

        • he distances are actually relatively short. for example, a major portion of power from the City of Los Angeles comes from coal plants in Arizona..

          • Rooftop solar is an idea whose time needs to come. Not only is it produced in the very neighborhoods in which it is needed, it also uses space that would otherwise be wasted. Unlike using virgin desert hundreds of miles away. How can it possibly be more efficient to distribute power from outside the city, than from inside the city? It may require adjustment to distribute local power, but it’s both more secure, and more sustainable.

          • How about skipping solar and skipping the grid upgrade and everybody having their own power generators on site? Free clean energy that doesn’t matter if the sun is out, doesn’t matter how much fuel you have to give it (runs on it’s own supply), and doesn’t have any waste of any sort? It would solve all the environmental problems that energy production creates. No more coal power plants, no more nuclear power plants, no more seeking out new places to drill, no more fracking and putting poisons into the ground.

          • It *already* needs a major upgrade! The grid is one of our largest sources of power loss – and an unavoidable one so long as it stands as is. And, why would solar panels on rooftops fluctuate more than solar panels in the desert? You’ve got to build power lines for hundreds of miles to get power from the desert anyway, why not use those resources instead to require neighborhoods?

            Oh, wait– there’s more money to be made exploiting virgin land and building long transmission lines than using already-owned rooftops. It’s that consumption thing again.

          • Rooftop solar all over, say, LA, would fluctuate more than a massive solar farm in the deserts because clouds would pass over various parts of LA at different times causing constant power drops and spikes. Honolulu had to stop new rooftop solar recently for that very reason

          • Living in the desert as I do, I would expect that the same will be true of a massive solar plant. Clouds, especially small clouds, move from west to east and create pockets of shade. In addition, small variations in altitude create local micro-climates. The weather a hundred feet higher than us can be different by twenty degrees and an inch of precipitation.

Comments are closed.