Desert tortoise gets fast-tracked to the curb


Friendly desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). drakeinteractive.com

This cute desert tortoise enjoying the sun and flowers needs to move in order to make way for a new kind of flora in the Mojave desert:  very environmentally friendly solar panel trees.  Environmental regulations and countless required studies usually stymie the development of large-scale industrial projects, especially in pristine habitats of sensitive critters (and in California in general).  However, “the looming expiration of crucial federal financial support for the multi-billion-dollar projects, though, could turn the boom to bust.”  State approval of Mojave desert solar power farms is being fast-tracked in order to qualify for federal money, which will disappear due to the stimulus spigot being turned off, and the fact that the country is broke.

The scale of each “suncatcher”, the number going to be installed, and the vast amount of acreage required for each farm is simply astounding.  Yet, the presence of federally threatened desert tortoises is not enough to stop the project; they’ll simply be moved somewhere else, and chances of survival are admittedly very low (see below).  I wonder if the Central Valley farmers who are suffering from lack of water due to the Delta smelt will get fast track approval to use their barren moonscape farms for these same solar plants?  How can the cute tortoises stand in the way of Progress and reducing carbon footprints?

From the Reptile Channel:

Supporters of BrightSource’s project, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, say the benefits of the project outweigh the potential negative environmental impact. According to BrightSource’s website, the solar thermal power plant will generate 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction and prevent 450,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

From the La Times on the “tortoise roundup”:

Federal wildlife biologists said it was needed to make way for construction of BrightSource Energy’s 3,280-acre, 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System.

Without the roundup, an estimated 17 federally threatened tortoises — and an unknown number of half-dollar-sized hatchlings — in the 913-acre initial phase of the project would have been squashed by heavy equipment.

A total 36 adult tortoises are believed to inhabit the project site. “We can never say we got them all out of there — these are cryptic creatures,” said Roy Murray of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery office.

Under a plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as many tortoises as possible will be captured, weighed, measured, photographed, blood tested, fitted with radio transmitters and housed in quarantine pens with artificial burrows.

The tortoises will remain in the pens until they can be transported and released in natural settings elsewhere in the region determined to be free of disease and predators — a process expected to take several months.

Tortoise translocation is still an experimental strategy with a dismal track record. In previous efforts, transported tortoises have shown a tendency to wander, sometimes for miles, often back toward the habitat in which they were found. The stress of handling and adapting to unfamiliar terrain renders the reptiles vulnerable to potentially lethal threats: predation by dogs, ravens and coyotes; respiratory disease, dehydration and being hit by vehicles.

Here is more information about the absolutely stunning scale of these solar farms:

Resembling a giant mirrored satellite receiver, each Suncatcher stands 40 feet tall and 38 feet wide with a Stirling engine suspended on an arm over the center of the dish. As the dish tracks the sun, its mirrors concentrate sunlight on the hydrogen gas-filled heat engine. As the superheated gas expands, it drives pistons, which generates 25 kilowatts of electricity.

Now imagine planting 26,540 Suncatchers on 4,613 acres of federal land for the Calico project.

This is the result of AB32, the global warming law California still has on the books (Prop 23), which mandates the state receive an increasing percentage of electricity from renewable sources and a 25% reduction in emissions by 2020.   Thousands of acres of these Suncatchers are required to meet those goals, regardless of whatever threatened species get in the way.

Todd Woody for The New York Times

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86 thoughts on “Desert tortoise gets fast-tracked to the curb

  1. I think they have had the same kind of issues with wind farms up in Scotland, killing off endangered birds and the like.

    So how long before the BBC comes in and starts banging on about the impact these projects are having on biodiversity?

    Oh thats right…when it comes to the cult of Mann Made Global Warming ™, nothing must be allowed to get in the way of “progress”.

    Mailman

  2. Thousands of acres of these Suncatchers are required to meet those goals, regardless of whatever threatened species get in the way.?

    —…—

    Tens of thousands perhaps?

    Or am I more correct in assuming the writer is assuming the CA economy will die, and only a few will be needed to make up the difference?

    RyanM: Green at any cost.

  3. In my Army days we literally airlifted them to safety if we came anywhere close to them during our training days at NTC because they had a bad habit of urinating all their liquids out of their bodies and dying from dehydration if you startled them. There was literally an entire crew of medics that would be waiting 24 hours a day to fly down and pump them full of IV’s to protect them from pissing themselves to death.

  4. I guess they are not keeping up with the news

    Today……..COP10 biodiversity summit in Nagoya Japan broke the “Copenhagen curse” by agreeing on a new set of targets to save species and ecosystems around the world.

    Suncatchers or tortoise that should keep the Greenies scratching their heads for a bit!

  5. The projects approved so far entail 23 million Acres Total. The entire Arctic National Wildlife Researve (ANWR) is 19.2 million acres; that’s 30,000 square miles.

    Of that, Oil companies wanted to drill on about 2400 acres; the size of an average shopping mall; well plus some roads and stuff to get the Caribou around safely.

    Ryan: Jackpot. You pointed out the hypocrisy of the whole damned thing.

  6. The tortoises will remain in the pens until they can be transported and released in natural settings elsewhere in the region determined to be free of disease and predators — a process expected to take several months.

    ============================================================

    Natural settings elsewhere in the region free from disease and predators likely are already supporting a local tortoise population. Might be best to locate zoos or interested individuals to take them in. That, or start looking for recipes…

  7. “Resembling a giant mirrored satellite receiver, each Suncatcher stands 40 feet tall and 38 feet wide with a Stirling engine suspended on an arm over the center of the dish. As the dish tracks the sun, its mirrors concentrate sunlight on the hydrogen gas-filled heat engine. As the superheated gas expands, it drives pistons, which generates 25 kilowatts of electricity.”

    So about 100 square meters for a peak performance of 25 kw. 1 square meter of PV should deliver about 200W peak performance. Wait. What’s the efficiency here?

    “Stirling engines are one of the best options on the market to harvest solar power as they can reach a 31% efficiency compared to just 16% for parabolic trough technology or 14-18% achieved by photovoltaic panels. Because of the high price and high maintenance costs, stirling engines do not stand a chance compared to the photovoltaic systems. Even though the future of the stirling engine may sound crazy today, we never know what tomorrow may bring.”
    from

    http://www.greenoptimistic.com/2010/01/02/31-efficient-stirling-engines-used-to-convert-1-5mw-of-arizona-solar-power/

    So even “green opimists” call it “crazy”. So i guess it’s a must-have for California ;-)

  8. Superheated hydrogen gas-filled 25 kilowatt heat engine, I want one for my roof.

    Can I get it with a Direct TV option? : )

  9. How convenient for the UN and the World Bank to concentrate their next scare on biodiversity.
    No matter what we do, human civilization is the culprit and the forces in power clearly want less of it. It’s time for a revolution to send these highly disturbed power hungry not so green demagogues to the dungeon before any real harm is done.

    http://green-agenda.com

  10. Michael says:
    October 29, 2010 at 3:58 pm
    “In my Army days we literally airlifted them to safety if we came anywhere close to them during our training days at NTC because they had a bad habit of urinating all their liquids out of their bodies and dying from dehydration if you startled them. ”

    Great defense mechanism for a species adapted to the desert :-/

  11. BTW, re the trackers: The tracker business in Germany is dead. As photovoltaics got cheaper due to Chinese prize pressure, it became uneconomical to install expensive trackers. The economics might be a little different in a desert with a lot of sun hours, but generally, trackers are on their way out.

  12. Did you know solar panels are made by black forest gnomes using pixie dust for power?

    How many lies, before the truth — Hey I got one of thsoe free government Jimmy Carter soalr panels, now since removed when they died. Never really did anything useful, except half heat the hot tub.

  13. Pure supposition here, but I’m guessing they’re not going with photovoltaics due to the high temperatures in the Mojave desert. I’m not sure what the power dropoff is for modern cells when they get hot, but it was significant the last time I checked. As someone who used to live there, I know that anything outside in full sunlight in the summer rapidly reaches very high temperatures.

  14. I can’t help but think that some rules of unintended consequences will come into play shortly. Miles and miles of land will suddenly receive no direct sunlight. Its good that they are moving the tortoises in that they will be abruptly altering the environment of the desert.

    On an entirely different note, does it seem strange to anyone else they’re using hydrogen gas-filled heat engines? Why don’t they just use the hydrogen as the source fuel? Why bother with the sun catchers at all? Then one could at least use them day and night. WUWT? What the hell is wrong with those people?

  15. tarpon says:
    October 29, 2010 at 4:25 pm
    “Did you know solar panels are made by black forest gnomes using pixie dust for power?”

    Well; Manz Automation, one of the makers of the machinery used by German and Chinese companies to make solar panels, is located slightly east of the Black Forest, so you are not completely off track.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=de&geocode=&q=manz+automation&sll=51.055207,11.228027&sspn=8.179986,20.43457&ie=UTF8&hq=manz+automation&hnear=&ll=48.691867,8.809662&spn=0.536661,1.277161&t=h&z=10

  16. kinda hypocritical?

    I’d say entirely.

    The voting public understands this sort of double-talk.

    Perhaps this post needs to be kept up at the top of the page until Tuesday?

  17. Come on now people, after the “trees” are installed, the turtles can come back and live there.

    The only real threat will be from vehicles running them over, but it’s not like there will be a highway carrying heavy traffic.

    The drivers can be trained not to run over the critters.

  18. A nuclear plant at somewhere around Havasu might provide more electricity than all the panels they want to deploy … 24×7 … 365/year.

  19. James Barker says:
    October 29, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    So the possibility of AGW does actually threaten biodiversity.

    ———————–

    James Barker,

    That is pretty clever. You made my evening.

    Thanks.

    John

  20. One thing that is never mentioned in connection to solar plants is water. Where is the water going to come from to keep these beautiful, shiny mirrors clean? Having lived in desert climates, one thing is guaranteed, fine dust covers everything over time. A good dust storm will decrease the efficiency of the whole system for days, if not weeks, until the are all cleaned. But someone will say you could use air to clean them. One, compressed air requires a lot of energy to produce, and two, it will have to be special dust that doesn’t simple move to the next mirror when blown off.

  21. All ‘green’ endeavors get a free pass on environmental damage. Look at the number of bats and birds killed by wind=farms. If conventional power companies had half the effect on wildlife there would be continual law suits. But its OK to kill animals even endangered species with _green_ power as they are ‘dying for the common good’.

    And as this shows the greens could not care less about wild-life anyway – its the conventional power companies that they want to stop.

  22. In the Socialist workers paradise of Victoria, a 10km long freeway through grasslands will wipe out 50 endangered species according to our loopy left, BUT, an un-needed and unwanted water pipeline reserve 120km long and 50 metres wide through forest and farming land will have no ecological impact whatsoever. As Harry Who said “Amazing”

  23. Instead of paving the desert why not put them on top of the already developed areas of the southwest? Must not be enough money involved.

  24. This just drives me up the wall. If they mean well then it dosen’t matter what they do to anyone else. Just don’t ask them to take the medicine the give to others.

  25. But why does California want more solar power stations? they already have two large scale ones built in the 1980′s with taxpayers money neither of which worked terribly well. I don’t know whether either is still in service: they proved to be failures from the start.

    But I do know they were then, and for all I know still are used, as textbook examples of the limitations and economics of solar power.

    There is nothing new under the sun and the technology today is no better than it was back then. Nor is it any cheaper.

    And note they are using Stirling engines but with hydrogen? presumably they cannot afford helium. But given the temperatures and pressures CO2 or even N2 or even better still steam would do better. Unless of course they want to avoid the increased capital cost in terms of the engine itself to handle that: so I imagine they intend to build on the cheap, and damn the warranty. I’ll bet it runs out just before the engines fail, five years or so anyone?

    So what this boondoggle is all about I do not know.

    Ripping off taxpayers I suppose.

    Kindest Regards

  26. Just wait until the bills for that solar plant trickle through the economy. The plant makes economic sense to the developer only because of all the funny-money that flows into his coffers, from tax credits through accelerated depreciation to stimulus funds. Take away the subsidies and you’ll see power from that plant (at the fence) costing in the range of 40-cents per kwh, which is what Spain wound up paying to get takers without subsidies. Compare that with 4 to 5-cent wholesale conventional power (at the hub) in the U.S. Then add in the 8 or so cents currently in your California electric bill for fixed transmission and distribution costs and you’ll eventually see your bill rise from its current 12 to 13-cents to somewhere in the neighborhood of 48-cents per kwh on that blessed day when we go “all solar”.

    The enormous footprint required for solar plants and the horrendous capital costs involved are the result of really pathetic “energy density”. That inherently low energy density precludes the possibility of the kinds of “economy of scale” that have made fossil and nuclear fueled power plants commercially viable.

    I was an alternate energy developer for 20 years. I know the numbers and the technologies very well. Before any readers begin to “take me on” over my assessment, please look into the rudimentary concept of “capacity factor”. When solar capital costs are reluctantly quoted, proponents invariably cite dollars per kw of installed PEAK capacity rather than average USABLE capacity. Since the sun rises and sets, most solar plants are lucky to get 25 kw of average power from a plant with 100 kw capacity installed. In that case, the capacity factor is 25% and the actual capital cost per kw is four times the quoted figure. Those solar plants that do better than that capacity factor, such as the “tower of power” solar plants, do so by supplementing the solar component with a fossil-fired boiler that burns more fuel than a conventional gas-fired, combined cycle turbine would have burned to produce the same power at a fraction of the capital cost.

  27. James Sexton says:
    October 29, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    On an entirely different note, does it seem strange to anyone else they’re using hydrogen gas-filled heat engines? Why don’t they just use the hydrogen as the source fuel? Why bother with the sun catchers at all? Then one could at least use them day and night.

    Not strange at all. The hydrogen is the working gas in the Stirling engine, I think it’s used because of its low density – not much heat will bring the gas to a high temperature and hence high pressure. Helium is also frequently used. I’d wonder a bit about the risk of metal embrittlement from the hydrogen, that’s one concern at atomic energy plants. Burn off the hydrogen? How well does a refrigerator refrigerate without freon or similar working fluid?

    Speaking of which, Seabrook Station in New Hampshire looks like it take some 50 acres (not counting the Atlantic Ocean, used for cooling) and generates 1,250 MW.

    This boondoggle is 3,280 acres for 370 MW (only when the Sun is shining). Which site has the bigger environmental impact?

  28. These things work.

    Between 1984 and 1991, Luz designed, developed, built, financed, and operated nine Solar Electricity Generating Stations (SEGS) in California’s Mojave Desert generating a total of 354 megawatts.

    The Luz plants have generated more than 11,000 gigawatt-hours and produced more than 1.7 billion dollars of revenue over the past 22 years. These plants are still generating electricity to the Southern California Edison grid and operating profitably. No other company has come close to the Luz solar thermal industry track record.

    354 Megawatts during the time of day they’re most needed.

    http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/bsii/history

    I’d say these units are just about paid off, now, and SoCal Edison is “Freerolling.” No Coal, no natural gas, no muss, no fuss. Looks pretty good to me.

  29. Claude Harvey
    October 29, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I am wondering if you would have any idea what the operating cost of this facility would be? To me, those units look very expensive and maintenance heavy, for only 25Kw each. Mirrors don’t do very well in the desert, one good sand blasting from a dust storm will make them useless. On top of that is all of the drive mechanics. And they want to put up 15000 of these things?

    I am pretty sure that the greenies know it is a boondoggle. That is why they are backing it. If a plan is feasible then they resist it with a vengeance. It is pretty obvious that they do not want the so called energy problem to be solved.

  30. Re: Kum Dollison says:
    October 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm
    Re:Kum Dollison says:
    October 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    “These things work.”

    I never said they didn’t work. I said the economics is lousy. The LUZ plants built in the early 80′s benefited from a 25% federal tax credit and a 25% California tax credit, accelerated five-year depreciation and, probably, a few R&D tax credits thrown into the pot. Even with 60% of the investment coming from “free money” those plants made no sense without hyper-inflated power sales agreements with So. Cal. Edison that were forced on the utility by the California PUC.

    Those LUZ plants, incidentally, are examples of using fossil fuel to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. There’s good reason why no more such plants were built in the U.S. until recently when the federal “honey pot” was resurrected to subsidize them from the public till.

    I’m well aware there is good money to be made touting the company line for “alternate energy”, but this site invites “truth for its own sake” and I hereby speak the truth about solar electric power production.

  31. I just took a look at the project website. What is described looks nothing like the mass of GUDs each with a Stirling engine. Instead it appears to be the standard field of mirrors focusing light on a tower of power design. Which is still a waist of real estate. Imagine the amount of power one could generate on that amount of land using the atom!

  32. DesertYote says:
    October 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    “I am wondering if you would have any idea what the operating cost of this facility would be?”

    I could guess, but I have no hard figures. When you consider that every one of those 15,000 mirrors is equipped with positioning motors directed by a sun-tracking-system it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conclude “relatively high”.

    Wind power, which is much simpler, is experiencing O&M costs approaching 50% of the total wholesale cost of conventional power at the trading hubs according to the I.E.E.E. report of industry averages (they get a lot more for their wind power than average wholesale). Those gearboxes and prop feathering mechanisms are eating their lunch with maintenance and repair expenses. Take away the subsidies and wind doesn’t cut it either. The Germans are reputedly getting few takers for unsubsidized off-shore wind power at 20-cents per kwh.

  33. Are we overlooking the Uranium “MINE?” And, the Uranium “Storage?” And, are we overlooking the fact that you don’t have to dig up, and transport a depleting resource (coal) that will only get more expensive as it depletes?

    I would love to see the initial investment on the older Luz plants, and see how they’re faring now as a return on investment. I figure they’re probably bringing in $120 Million/yr, or more, with no cost for fossil fuels, scrubbing, shipping, storage, air quality problems, etc. I have a hunch they’re turning out to be not as bad a deal as they may have, initially, appeared.

  34. So why can’t the tortoises live under the solar cells? This technology increases shading and decreases evaporative losses, and have to be washed occasionally. More water and fewer evaporative losses mean more desert productivity. A few plants in the right place and the tortoise population should go up. Why have the solar energy end of the green movement lost the basic grasp of ecology. Or are the guys that clean the mirrors afraid of cacti, tumble weed and ankle high tortoises. I’ve spoken to a few people in the industry about this and the risk of weed problems in the desert. The tortoise sounds like a perfect solution.
    There would be no endangered species if we were allowed to farm them. Tortoise tastes great I’m told.

  35. Isn’t it time for someone to pull a Greenie Ecoterror lawsuit to halt this whole procedure for at least several years like the Enviro whackies do in old growth forests when they can find an endangered species in the area. Don’t get me wrong I want to keep old growth forests and contiguous forests for animal migration.

  36. How wonderful. Electricity that most won’t begin to be able to pay the costs of. And only when the sun is shining.

    I am sure that the people made peasants by this idiocy will find other sources of light at night. Torches accompanied by pitchforks come to mind.

  37. All these wonderful alternative energy projects are further proof that Count Ponzi is the true patron saint of the political class. Unfortunately they’re such a complete collection of dullards that they have never mastered the Count’s key insight, which is that his schemes only work if you can take the money and run before the pyramid expands too much to be sustainable when there aren’t enough new suckers to keep paying off the old suckers. When you try to use Ponzi’s principles on public entitlement programs where you can’t run from the expanding commitments the only possible end is guaranteed complete collapse of the system.
    It is fairly obvious that these solar plants and wind farms are not sustainable without large and continuing injections of OPM, and that we are already nearing the point where the supply of new suckers is dwindling fast.

  38. So much for concern over biodiversity. Eco-fascists are nothing more than a stinking bunch of [self snip]ing hypocrites.

  39. Andrew says:
    October 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm
    A good dust storm will decrease the efficiency of the whole system for days, if not weeks, until the are all cleaned.

    Won’t a series of dust storms permanently damage the mirrors an reduce efficiency?

  40. But….but…..isn’t the whole point of this so that my grandchildren will be able to see the desert tortoise in its native habitat? Moving them, and possibly killing them with this ‘kindness’ defeats the whole purpose. Maybe Mr Hansen can argue against this development as he often uses the welfare of his grandchildren as an argument for reducing CO2.

    If they leave the tortoises there to revel in the shade and increased water from cleaning the mirrors, won’t that also change the habitat that they have adapted to survive in. More greenery and water may not only disturb their ecosystem sufficiently for them to die out anyway but may also bring in other critters that will enjoy a hard-crust tortoise for lunch.

  41. James Sexton 4:43pm; A. Jones, 8:23; Ric Werme, 9:04pm:
    According to the book “Stirling Engines”, by G.T. Reader and C. Cooper, the Stirling engine becomes more efficient the lighter the gas used within the engine spaces, hence hydrogen. Mind you, you have to make the engine out of something the hydrogen won’t leak through.

  42. Regarding Michael says:
    October 29, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks Michael, this must account for the high degree of belief in ailien abduction among the tortoise population.

  43. DirkH quoted the following:

    “Even though the future of the stirling engine may sound crazy today, we never know what tomorrow may bring.”

    You might be interested to know that UK company Baxi are now marketing a Micro CHP domestic boiler employing a Stirling engine:

    http://www.baxi.co.uk/products/2137.htm

  44. This is insane.

    For every million they spend, they will add another million for back up power sources. They will add another million for grid, gathering and distribution. Then they will add another million for subsidies and pork.

    On paper this green utopia will double your energy bill. The other half of the energy bill you will not see is the portion of energy spent and paid for on your tax return.

  45. Kum Dollison says:
    October 29, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Are we overlooking the Uranium “MINE?” And, the Uranium “Storage?”

    The US has enough uranium to last a long time. I don’t have a source, but if I remember correctly, the US has enough nuclear fuel to last over 100 years.

    And then the waste. I’ve read that modern reactors produce 3 cubic meters, or about 10 cubic feet, of waste per year after reprocessing. (Someone should verify this, as the numbers below are based on this.) Older reactors are less efficient, which all the more reason to build more nuclear reactors and replace the old ones. I don’t have a link for that either. An acre is 43,560 square feet. If we store uranium is square containers that are 5 feet high, we could store 2,178 containers of nuclear waste per acre. Let us say 1,900 containers per acre to account for the size of the container itself. That would mean that 1 acre of land can provide enough storage for 190 modern reactors per year. By comparison, this solar project is 3,280 acres. Why takes less land?

    Let us say I was wrong and modern reactors produce 20 cubic feet of waste per year after reprocessing. That means that an acre can handle 95 modern reactors a year.

    Sorry, but large-scale solar power never makes sense and never will make sense. Even if solar was the ideal 100% efficient, it still would not make sense.

  46. I would like to see terms like, “solar power farm”, “wind farm”, “solar farm”, etc. banned. These industrial power generation facilities have absolutely nothing to do with farming. The proponents of these large scale science projects like to use “farm” in their press releases and related propaganda to pretend that they are doing something beneficial, like providing food for hungry people which, obviously, they are not.

  47. Today, in the newspaper of my hometown, the Braunschweiger Zeitung, there was an interesting article with a breakdown of the end customer prize for electricity, which amounts to about 20 Eurocent/kWh – about 28 USD-cents at the moment.

    34% percent of this prize are needed by the provider to buy or produce electricity. The rest are various taxes like VAT, an eco[logical] tax, …
    8% are needed to cross-subsidize the renewable energies – wind and solar. This part is expected to rise by 50%; so in 2011 about 12% of the end customer prize will be needed for the subsidy.

    IOW, when we ignore the general (outrageous) taxes, we see that the low-energy collection systems wind and PV already cost a third of the entire real energy infrastructure here in Germany.

    If the trend of the past few years continues, i expect 50% growth per year of this cross-subsidy.

  48. So, the choice is, either pay an extra $0.03/kwh, now, or increase your long-term dependency on Russian natural gas? Or, go Nuclear?

  49. John Trigge says:
    October 30, 2010 at 3:58 am

    You get it! Others, like Wesley, prove the old adage that “a little knowledge can be dangerous”. Desert animals are adapted to desert conditions for a reason: they can’t survive in the shade. That’s like saying, “let’s let the burrowing owls live in trees.”

    Absurd people…attributing anthropomorphic traits to animals that have been dwelling in the desert for millions of years. It has been conclusively and repeatedly shown that habitat destruction from these solar “farms” is a reality, and deprives those critters adapted to such climate of their habitat, leading them to extinction. There are plants and other creatures adapted to that habitat that will also have to seek other “pastures”, such as snakes, lizards, insects and plants.

    And we laugh that Marie Antoinette (supposedly) said “let them eat cake!”.

  50. Kum Dollison says:
    October 30, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Another one…

    No, we drill baby drill, and also exploit hundreds of years worth of coal, gas and oil, as well as thousands of years’ worth of uranium, right here in front of you!.

  51. Wade,
    Don’t want to nit-pick, but can’t resist one correction. 3 cubic meters is a whole lot more than 10 cubic feet. Using the rough approximation of 1 meter = 1 yard, you have 3 ^3 * 3=81 cubic feet. I agree with your general point, though.

  52. This from today’s American Thinker: [h/t Rick Moran]

    “A stubborn refusal to face facts is not very smart. And you don’t need an Ivy League education to figure that out.
    But in the face of a cult-like belief on all things green, reason and logic make no progress.”

  53. The USGS just lowered their “Reserves” estimate for Alaska’s NPR (National Petroleum Reserve) from 10 Billion Barrels to “Less than 1 billion barrels.

    The price of oil has gone from the $30.00′s in 2005 to the $80.00′s in 2010, but production has Fallen.

    You might want to rethink your “Hundreds of Years of Oil, Gas, and Coal.”

    Just in case, you know?

  54. Ridiculous from an engineer’s viewpoint: 4600 acres for a mere 370 MW (dependent on a sunny day).

    The coal plant I worked at was rated 350 MW net (& not just during sunny days). It took about 15 acres for the plant, coal storage pile, 2 half-million gal fuel-oil tanks — everything.

    A nuke-submarine’s miniaturized fission reactor could output maybe 10 MW (guessing) & fit in a large room.

  55. What do we have? About Five Hundred Million Acres of Desert?

    Sheesh.

    I never realized dry, barren sand was so precious.

  56. FredG says:
    October 29, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Come on now people, after the “trees” are installed, the turtles can come back and live there.

    The only real threat will be from vehicles running them over, but it’s not like there will be a highway carrying heavy traffic.

    That is doubtful. They are likely to fence off the site and a buffer zone. A few tortoises will get past the fence, where they’ll find their food source (desert plants, I’d expect) scraped away and predators (ravens) have a clear shot at them. Fire regulations require this continual weed removal for any structures or construction. As with any solar power generation, it is essential to keep mirrors and collectors clean, which means frequent use of chemical sprays (daily if the winds and dust there are similar to here). No, I can’t see the tortoises being safely returned to the site later on.

    I also think that solar (and wind) power generation is best done at the endpoint: homes and businesses that use power. Instead of huge projects that can never compete with gas-burning plants for cost or efficiency, put individual or clustered generation in neighborhoods where it can help stabilize pricing and keep things going when Cal-ISO is using rotating shutdowns to curtail power use. Likewise, heat-generating industrial production processes could (and probably should) be tapped to produce some portion of local power needs.

    I hope BrightSource does well, and that the animals are able to survive and adapt to the relocation. I was a big fan of the former Luz project many years ago. But this emphasis on big, centralized alternative power generation projects is a dead end.

  57. Kum Dollison says:

    The USGS just lowered their “Reserves” estimate for Alaska’s NPR (National Petroleum Reserve) from 10 Billion Barrels to “Less than 1 billion barrels.”

    Yes, they have found that most of it contains natural gas rather than oil. By the way did you happen to notice how much USGS just raised their Reserves estimate for the Williston basin?

  58. Kum Dollison says:
    October 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    354 Megawatts during the time of day they’re most needed.

    http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/bsii/history

    I’d say these units are just about paid off, now, and SoCal Edison is “Freerolling.” No Coal, no natural gas, no muss, no fuss. Looks pretty good to me.

    No, the Luz plants in California were able to run because of (1) special taxation rules that applied at the time, and (2) rules which required utilities to buy their power at an above-market price. When the first part went away, Luz collapsed. I was a big supporter, but knew even then that solar power generation was not financial competitive. It still isn’t.

  59. Yes, those plants couldn’t “compete” in the early nineties when SoCal utility rates were low, BUT, they’re making oodles of money, now (and, I suspect that the units going up Now will be making oodles in 2030.)

    Come on, guys; we’re not border collies. Most of you will live to be more than 80 years old. Your Grandkids will still be alive in the year 2100. Twenty years won’t get your newly-born out of college.

  60. Kum Dollison says:
    October 30, 2010 at 7:47 am
    “So, the choice is, either pay an extra $0.03/kwh, now, or increase your long-term dependency on Russian natural gas? Or, go Nuclear?”

    You have misunderstood the cost structure. Sorry for my lack of comprehensibility.

    The cross subsidy will, at the moment, be about 3 Eurocent per kWh; that’s 4.2 US cent. BUT that does NOT mean that solar power costs 3 cents more per kWh than conventional power because the output of the PV plants is only 1.2 percent of the entire generation. So one third of the prize before taxes is squandered on a miniscule, negligible generation capability that we could well do without – we wouldn’t notice the difference.

    You should also know that the owners of wind and solar plants may be forced to switch off when the grid can’t take their power due to overload; but they will still be paid for what they *could* have delivered.

  61. DaveF says:
    October 30, 2010 at 4:01 am …….the Stirling engine becomes more efficient the lighter the gas used within the engine spaces, ….

    Well up to a point Lord Copper. There are other considerations. Helium is an excellent gas for Stirling engines because of its very high thermal conductivity, by the standards of a gas.

    Kindest Regards

  62. @Kum Dollison:
    I’d want to see why they are profitable after all these years. Are they still receiving above-market rates from SCE? Are they being tax-subsidized? Did they replace their interest-bearing notes with equity from a rich uncle who doesn’t require a high return? Did they neglect to make repairs and maintenance, so they could notch a few years of “profit” before the facilities fail? Are they using creative accounting? There are many ways to declare something profitable, especially as a subsidiary of a larger enterprise, but not all of them involve selling a large amount of product for more than it cost you to produce, sell, and distribute that product.

    As I said, I wish them the best, but centralized solar and generation schemes are a dead end. They only exist through some kind of subsidy. The failure of “LUZ I” is a textbook example, and I recall reading something about LUZ II running into BrightSource’s arms because it too was facing impending bankruptcy. (I can’t find it on the Victorville Daily Press’s site, but I dimly recall it.)

  63. Spend the money on Thorium reactors. Loads of Thorium, little waste, potentially very safe, just no good for making stuff for bombs….

  64. For comedic value.
    Jülich experimental Solar Tower Power Plant. On a bad day.

    (It’s 20km from Aachen, the rainiest town in Germany)

  65. …the looming expiration of crucial federal financial support for the multi-billion-dollar projects…
    Tortoises? We don’t care about no stinking tortoises – - or anything else!
    The money’s running OUT!
    Now get out of my way, before I run you and your common sense over with my bulldozer!
    /sarc

  66. We’re probably not going to run short on turtles (desert, or otherwise.)

    Look, I think this is what a few of you are missing. Coal won’t stay “cheap.” It increased in price, along with oil, from about $30.00/tonne for Appalachian, to $140.00/tonne in 2008, and has, now, settled back to about $60.00/tonne.

    http://www.infomine.com/investment/charts.aspx?mv=1&f=f&r=15y&c=ccoal_nymex.xusd.umt,cbrent_crude_oil.xusd.ubarrel#chart

    There’s, absolutely, No reason to think that coal won’t continue to rise in price along with other fossil fuels. And, there’s, absolutely, no reason to think that once a Solar Farm is paid off the Sun won’t continue to be anything but Free for the taking.

  67. Kum Dollison says:
    October 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm
    “[...]with other fossil fuels. And, there’s, absolutely, no reason to think that once a Solar Farm is paid off the Sun won’t continue to be anything but Free for the taking.”

    There is a thing called capital cost involved when building large scale infrastructure. In short, interest on the capital you borrow to build the thing. The lifetime of an infrastructure is not unlimited, especially without maintenance. That causes costs too. You might have to replace the inverters for PV installations after 20 years; the capacitors maybe earlier; they fall dry.

    I expect PV to be cost-competitive in about 2025 when we ignore the intermittency problem – reaching prices of maybe 7 cent a kWh, that is. The price for storage systems will have to be factored in when we want to tackle the intermittency problem, and that might push back the break even another decade.

    Until then, it’s subsidies.

  68. Why $0.07/kwhr?

    Solar systems give you electricity during “Peak” hours. In S. Cal, I believe that electricity is costing upwards of $0.20/kwhr. for many customers.

    What will it be in 10 years? 20 years? What will it be when the price of coal goes back to $140.00/tonne, and then rises from there?

    Now, about this “you’ve gotta have a back-up for when the sun isn’t shining,” argument. First off, when the Sun isn’t shining you’re not going to need as much electricity in S. Ca.

    Second, they’re not going to build a back-up fossil fuel plant. This solar farm will cause a plant, somewhere, to not operate (and burn ever-increasingly expensive fossil fuels) as many hours.

  69. Here in Australia, the Greens party routinely help to obstruct any infrastructure project on the grounds of distubing faunal habitats, etc., but when it emerged that a windfarm in the greenest state of all (Tasmania, where the devils come from) was killing rare and endangered eagles, the Greens did absolutely nothing. Their leader issued a vague expression of regret on his website, then crossed the road and walked away as fast as possible while avoiding eye contact.

  70. I live in the Mojave desert between the 1000 MW Tehachapi wind farms and the 360 MW LUZ solar plant. I am an engine design engineer, including Stirling engines. I bought some PV solar panels for my company, and have a deep interest in the various grid power technologies.

    Some comments. First, fossil fuels will get more expensive and run out someday. [insert long discussion on how and when] I think a proper function of government is to subsidize new technologies that may or may not become competitive with old technologies. Government takes risk that private industry isn’t suited for. That’s an opinion, your mileage may vary. Tessera’s public statement is that price is $2800/KW, comparable to a nuke.

    Second, the article is conflating the Tessera/SES Stirling dishes with the Ivanpaugh BrightSource project that uses a power tower and heliostats. A significant difference is that the BrightSource uses a lot of process water and the Stirling engines are air cooled. That’s a big deal in the desert where there is lots of sunlight and not much water.

    Per the article, they have found 34 turtles and plan to move them. It looks like they chose that location at least partially because there aren’t many turtles there. The impact on the greater Desert Tortise population will be tiny regardless how they handle this. It’s a big desert with a lot of turtles. I have seen several near town here. These projects may have large numbers of hectares, but still a tiny fraction of the desert.

    Third, the Stirling engines, built by McLaren of race car fame, use hydrogen because it’s the best choice. Helium is second. Nitrogen or air are not even close to optimum. This is based on engine efficiency (from gamma, the ratio of specific heats), the outstanding specific heat of hydrogen, and the low pressure drops in the machine caused by low viscosity.

    Fourth, the local grid is stressed to the max on the hottest summer days, when air conditioners are running. 24/7 base power is not the best way to address that. Solar plants generate power when it’s most needed, unlike wind power which comes at random times and rarely when most needed. The wind farms here are not as bad as most, in that there’s a high voltage link to the Castaic Lake / Pyramid lake pumped storage facility. Wind farms produce energy, not power.

    Fifth, the US needs badly to start building nukes again. There are 58 under construction around the world and none in the US. Even Green Germany is reconsidering their decision to phase out nuke plants.

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP_New_nuclear_policy_voted_through_2910101.html

    Nuke power using current technology has fuel to run for 100 years, but it’s easy to reprocess the fuel and get another 50 years. The Koreans are working on versions of the CANDU reactor that burn unprocessed LWR plant waste; that could be another 50 years. Then, there are Thorium reserves that could double those totals. Then, both slow neutron and fast neutron breeders could extend nuke power technology to a thousand years. That fits any reasonable definition of “reusable”, just not the government definition.

  71. Dan in California says:
    October 30, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    I am going to comment on your fascinating post but a little out of the order you present.

    Fossil fuel availability we will agree to disagree. As we will disagree about government money to develop new technology. Except for making weapons in times of national emergency it has never happened and even then the advance was only possible because private industry had done the groundwork. The only possible exception was the atomic bomb.

    I have never visited the Mojave desert but understand it to be quite large and it seems like you I cannot get terribly excited about using a small fraction of it even if that disturbs the local inhabitants.

    I take your point about A/C power demand peaking during the day, I do not know what space heating demand you might have during the night, but in the end this is about specific solutions to meet local demands. Something politicians and pundits do not seem to understand: there is no universal panacea, you select the engineering solution as best meets local requirements bearing in mind capital and running cost.

    You do not use the same solutions in Siberia as you would in the tropics.

    About nuclear fission I am less sure, even though I originally trained as a nuclear physicist and engineer. My view is this, the industry has been so starved of money that we no longer have the technicians to expand a new programme: which is why they are offering veterans like me absurd sums of money to come back and tell them how to do it.

    But I am not sure it would be wise to build a new generation of plants essentially based on the technology of fifty years ago. Make no mistake it works and is well proven. But there are better uranium fission reactors on the horizon and perhaps we should look to develop these.

    There is no shortage of fuel of course because although it is still cheaper to mine and refine yellowcake extraction from seawater is now a proven technology so for all practical purposes the reserves are infinite. At a price: and only about twenty percent more than yellowcake. It is not a thousand years of reserves try ten thousand.

    Everybody seems to be jumping up and down about thorium, I cannot really see why, there is just such a baby reactor some two hundred miles south of me which has been working for fifty years. It works and could be made into a practical power generating technology, but at what cost?

    No my view is that this technology is not needed now. The reserves of natural gas are huge, and the modern dual phase gas/steam power stations that burn it are very efficient and responsive to demand. They are also very cheap to build. It seems to me this is the practical solution for the future: for the next thirty years at least: and perhaps for a century or more. Known natural gas reserves already vastly exceed those of oil or coal. And there is no shortage of those either. Again not hundreds of years but a thousand or two.

    There is no great hurry you see: unless you demonise CO2.

    As for the Stirling engine, well in theory it can get very high efficiencies which are not obtainable in practice. It’s great virtue as you point out is that it needs no supplies and will run quite happily for many years with next to no servicing or attention. Which is why at times it has waxed and waned in popularity under various names such as hot air engine and the like.

    But it is telling that it has never really managed to find a role: other engine technologies are simply cheaper and better. We could dispute over the details of design but they are hardly relevant.

    Now I am not familiar with the designs of the solar stations you refer to. I merely observe that if you have a solar furnace you can raise temperatures to any level you require. If the sun shines and you have the alloys to stand it. And in such a case if you want generate electric power you do not need a Stirling engine, a helium filled multi stage turbine with enclosed generators will get you far better efficiency and possibly at lower cost. After all the French have had one for forty years. All of 100 Kw too.

    When the sun shines of course.

    Kindest Regards

  72. DaveF says:
    October 31, 2010 at 2:05 am

    It is a quote from E Waugh’s novel witten in the 1930′s and lampooning the London newspapers, Fleet Street, of that era. Lord Copper is the owner of a newspaper and a man who takes odd ideas to absurdity and is checked by his secretary and staff with the comment “Up to a point Lord Copper”. It is very amusing but I don’t imagine it would appeal to the modern US reader.

    Nevertheless the phrase is still current in British English.

    Kindest Regards.

  73. a jones says: October 30, 2010 at 11:16 pm
    snip

    It looks like we violently agree on the important things. :)

    “As for the Stirling engine, well in theory it can get very high efficiencies which are not obtainable in practice.”

    Stirling, Brayton, Rankine, Otto, and others are all limited to Carnot efficiency, but I prefer thermal efficiency as a comparison. Big coal fired plants are Rankines and the best are about 48% thermal efficient. The LUZ Kramer Junction solar plants are Rankines and have the advantage that they can burn natural gas to fill in the demand curve. I visited there and understand that after LUZ went bankrupt, the new owners are making profit. Of course their per KWH rate from Southern Cal Edison is higher than from conventional plants.

    “But it is telling that it has never really managed to find a role: other engine technologies are simply cheaper and better. We could dispute over the details of design but they are hardly relevant.”

    An example of the enormous inertia of the market place. The Wankel never really caught on, and its low use of amortized tooling was a large factor. Stirlings have the disadvantage of continuous high temperature and pressure. Ottos and Diesels only see intermittent high pressure. Hence lower cost favors the Otto. Stirlings have the advantage of not being internal combustion, but this is no advantage in an auto that carries its fuel regardless. It does make them an excellent choice for solar power though, along with Brayton and Rankine.

    “Now I am not familiar with the designs of the solar stations you refer to. I merely observe that if you have a solar furnace you can raise temperatures to any level you require. If the sun shines and you have the alloys to stand it. And in such a case if you want generate electric power you do not need a Stirling engine, a helium filled multi stage turbine with enclosed generators will get you far better efficiency and possibly at lower cost. After all the French have had one for forty years. All of 100 Kw too.”

    That’s a Brayton cycle. My current day job is developing an 83 KW closed cycle Brayton, so I am quite knowledgeable on this topic. The highest efficiency grid connected power plants are the natural gas peaker plants that use jet airliner cores to run alternators instead of the fans that propel the airplane. They achieve 60% and are the lowest cost to install. But natural gas is the highest cost fossil fuel, so they are not base load generators.

    In the early 1980s when the Space Station was still in the optimistic stage of its evolution, NASA looked at Stirling, Rankine, and Brayton engines to augment the PV arrays. Mechanical Technology Inc built a free piston Stirling engine (I think it was 10 KW) for that project. I had my arms around it but it was too heavy for me to lift.

    Why did SES/Tessera choose the Stirling engine over a Brayton for their solar tracking dishes? I don’t know, and I’m not going to second-guess them. The biggest factor is $/KW of the entire unit, followed by the “ilities” (maintainability, reliability, manufacturability, etc). Engine efficiency is in there somewhere but only interesting to nerds like you and me.

    On a slightly different topic, my residence is connected to Southern California Edison, and the rates are USD$.13/KWH for the first 483 KWH, $.15 for the next 106 KWH, then $.24 for the next 200 KWH per month. The price doubles if you use more more. I have cut my bills about in half over the past two years partially by remodeling with fewer and better windows, but mostly by buying a new, more efficient AC unit.

    And finally, Mr Jones, yeah I agree with your statements about nukes. I worked for Westinghouse (but not in their nuke division) in the late 1970s when their nuke power business died. That was just after they decided to build type approved plants instead of each being unique. I’m curious as to your opinion that the AP1000 is obsolete. It’s safe, cheap, reliable, and you can buy them. Certainly new technology is coming, but that’s true of just about everything.

  74. A. Jones 2:01:
    Thankyou for the explanation of Lord Copper. I am British myself, but sadly lacking in knowledge of literature, in which I have little interest. I take it you mean that the book on Stirling engines that I quoted was absurd. Regards, Dave.

  75. IIRC, protecting the habitat of the Desert Tortoise was one of the reasons given back in the day for shutting down the Mountain Pass Rare Earth mine, giving China a virtual world monopoly on the minerals critically important to so much modern technology, including lasers, flat-screen TVs, cell phones, et cetera.

  76. I totally love the turtles and wouldn’t want to see one of them killed for such a project. That said, I once had a Gopherus Berlanderi tortoise as a pet back when it was legal to have one. This sub species is very similar to the above type of desert tortoise. These tortoises are very intelligent and have an excellent memory. They are also extremely adaptable. Mine went from it’s desert diet of prickly pear cactus and such to peas and carrots and okra and lived in the house, garden and out on the lawn in California. They like it warm and they like to have shade so that they can adjust their body temperature. So move them temporarily, leave six inches of space under the fences in spots so they can travel and plant some veggies as ground cover. They will love it. Just don’t run over them. They are very adaptable. No “wild” animal can get spoiled faster than this tortoise.

    As for the mirrors, dust and stuck on dirt will be one of the major problems just like a sky light window in a house and they will have to be washed regularly. The water can drip down to the soil below. This will grow some type of vegetation for the critters.

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