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Solar Energy: Unfair To The Poor   Leave a comment

Solar 03 - IvanpahI’m loving this whole solar thing.

Driving to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, I drove by Ivanpah, which is a tri-headed solar farm that will be coming online this summer. Click on the picture at right to get a better look at how one of the steam-driven solar collectors works. You really don’t get a sense of the scale of this project driving by … you just know it’s large.

It’s not. It’s massive.

It’s a 3,500 acre installation … that’s almost 5-1/2 square miles! No wonder desert lovers are up in arms about this project … it’s truly destroying a very large swath of pristine desert, all in the hopes of creating some “green” energy. It’s been 5 years in the making, and will generate an additional 3,500 megawatts when it comes online. The project is costing $2.2 billion. And it’s not even working yet.

BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar plant, shown in these images, took more than five years to permit, finance, and build. The technology features thousands of mirrors that direct sunlight at a central tower to produce steam and power a turbine. Utilities in California are looking seriously at the technology because they must deliver a third of their power to consumers from renewables by 2020.

BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar plant, shown in these images, took more than five years to permit, finance, and build. The technology features thousands of mirrors that direct sunlight at a central tower to produce steam and power a turbine. Utilities in California are looking seriously at the technology because they must deliver a third of their power to consumers from renewables by 2020.

In 2012, California became the first state to install more than 1,000 megawatts of solar collection capacity (that’s over 1 gigawatt). That’s going to be shattered in 2013 … and we’re not done. Another huge project is coming online in Riverside County, east of LA County, and that two-headed project is costing $2.6 billion and has a capacity of 500 megawatts.

While the utilities are investing b-b-b-b-billions in solar, consumers are also getting on the bandwagon, and putting solar panels up on their roofs. That isn’t a very efficient way to lower their energy bills (see link below), but it is having a direct affect on how much they pay to the electrical utilities each month.

Lancaster, California, became the first city in the country to require solar panels on all new housing construction. Given how solar is one of the least important things to lower power bills … good planning, Lancaster!

The irony that’s now becoming public is that California’s commitment to solar energy is actually going to hurt the poor. Here’s why:

“Low-income customers can’t put on solar panels — let’s be blunt,” said David K. Owens, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities. “So why should a low-income customer have their rates go up for the benefit of someone who puts on a solar panel and wants to be credited the retail rate?”

It’s not just a California problem:

Other states, including New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Virginia, have also been reviewing their programs, which are transforming the fundamental relationship between customers and their utilities.

California schools have jumped on the band wagon … there’s a white paper, link below, on how school districts have embraced solar. Our local high school district, the William S. Hart Union High School District, has signed a 20-year agreement with a utility for “discounted” electrical rates, and in return they’ve “received” solar panel installations in a carport style over all of their parking lots. The good news for me as a tax payer, if you want to call it that, is that the School District signed this contract and since it’s zero cost, it’s “off book” – meaning there’s no direct budget impact. But there’s a 20-year commitment to buy electricity from the company that provided their solar panels for no charge.

I loved finding out that they installed the collectors at Valencia High School facing the wrong way.

That’s been fixed; here’s what their parking lot looks like now:

Valencia High School's solar panels also provide shade to their parking lot.

Valencia High School’s solar panels also provide shade to their parking lot.

Where is it all going? No clue. But our state is committed to creating more solar energy. Here’s hoping it all works out for the best.

More

How Green Do You Want Your Energy?

Mojave Desert Blog

Sacramento Business Journal: California’s First In Solar

Geek.com: Lancaster, CA

MIT Technology Review: Ivanpah

New York Times: The Fairness Debate

LA Times: Schools Install Solar

KCET.org: California School White Paper

LA Times photography: Ivanpah

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