Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
“Where the Walker runs down to the Carson Valley plains,
There lived a maiden, Darcy Farrow was her name.
The daughter of old Dundee and a fair one was she,
The sweetest flower that bloomed on the range.”
Traveling often reminds me how many places I know only through songs. I’ve made a (poor) living as a musician at various times in the past, and that’s a few lines from a song by Ian and Sylvia that I’ve sung many times. But it wasn’t until today that I’d ever seen either the Walker River or the Carson Valley. They are both lovely … at least in the late summer. I’m not making any claims about what it’s like during the winter, but then I’m a tropical boy, so what do I know.
When you come south from Lake Tahoe, you come first to Topaz Lake. There have been forest fires the last few days on the western slope of the Sierras, with the smoke blowing over the mountains to where we were traveling. So all the pictures are hazy.
After Topaz Lake you’re in the Carson Valley, and then the Antelope Valley, running along the Walker river. We stopped in the town of Bridgeport, on Bridgeport Lake. It’s on the upper Walker river, where the river is so small you could almost jump across it.
After leaving Bridgeport, we took the advice that the commenter “fizzissist” gave me yesterday and stopped at at the Whoa Nellie Deli in the town of Lee Vining for their mango margarita and their lobster taquitos … excellent advice, excellent food, and excellent drink, for which we’re most grateful. The deli overlooks Mono Lake, a part of history of the never-ending water wars of the West. It is a curious lake, in that it has no outflow except by evaporation.
Back in 1913, the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the Owens River, which fed Mono Lake. And again in 1941, they diverted a couple more rivers that fed Mono Lake, in order to slake the thirst of the Los Angelinos. As you might imagine, this caused the surface of Mono Lake to fall. One of the stranger things this did was to expose the “tufa towers”. Tufa is a variety of limestone that forms by precipitation of carbonate minerals from springs. There were springs below the surface of Mono Lake, and they created bizarre towering accretions of tufa that are now above lake level.
Finally in 1994 after much fighting, the diversion of water from the lake was greatly reduced. The lake has recovered somewhat, but obviously from the tufa towers there’s more to go, and the recent drought hasn’t helped
Want to know the good news? Limestone is made of carbon dioxide, so the tufa towers are protecting us from the eeeevils of carbon dioxide by binding it up into tufa … I feel so much better knowing that the non-problem is under control.
There’s not much growth around Mono Lake, it’s mostly desert except for a curious tree …
From there we went east towards Tonopah, Nevada. When we crossed into Nevada we were in Esmeralda County, which is a most odd county indeed. It’s odd because despite having an area of 3,600 square miles (9,300 square km), it has a total population (2010 census) of 783 souls, and not one single incorporated town in the whole county. A beehive of activity, indeed.
And having driven across the whole county, I can see why. Despite having amazing rock formations testifying to repeated compression and folding …
The biggest surprise of the day, though, came when we got near to Tonopah, Nevada. I looked out across the desert into the far distance, and I thought, dang, that’s one of them ugly solar towers if I ever saw one. I didn’t know there was one near Tonopah. And when we neared it, indeed it was as I feared:
A bit of research established that this is the Crescent Dunes solar power tower. It’s not quite completed, so at this point you’d think it would be the only solar power tower in the US that has never burned a single bird alive … but noooo.
The problem is that when the solar tower is in operation, the 17,500 mirrors will focus on the central white tower. The tower will become the brightest object in view, and of course, this will attract lots and lots of insects. The insects, in turn, attract lots of insectivorous birds, and the birds in turn attract raptors like eagles and hawks.
And when the birds and raptors fly into the beams of sunlight reflecting from the mirrors, their feathers catch fire, and they die a horrible death, plunging to the earth in flames. The operators of the solar towers call these hideously killed birds “smokers”, because of the smoke trails they leave behind as they are fried to death.
As a result, even though the Crescent Dunes project it hasn’t even entered operation, the plant has already killed 130 waterbirds during a test in January 2014. Biologists on the ground reported seeing the birds fly into the solar flux, “turn white, and vaporize” … ugly, and that’s just a warm-up.
But wait, it gets better. Despite being in the middle of the desert, the plant itself will use up to half a million gallons of water per day, including cooling tower water, blowdown water, floor drain water, and the like. In addition, it will need up to another two hundred thousand gallons of water just to wash the 17,500 mirrors (about ten gallons [38 litres] per mirror). Finally, it will need up to another two hundred thousand gallons for dust control, since nothing grows under the mirrors to hold the ground in place, and the winds can blow around here. As a result, authorized total water use will be up to 900,000 gallons (3.4 million litres) of water per DAY. Meanwhile, “environmentalists” are all agog and protesting like crazy about the one-time water use for fracking each well … pathetic.
But wait, it gets better. The construction was supposed to provide 600 construction jobs … but in the event, according to the locals I spoke with, the owners imported cheap labor from overseas, and very few jobs went to the locals.
But wait, it gets better. If the project goes belly-up, the taxpayers are on the hook because of a half-billion dollar government loan guarantee from the Obama Administration. I swear, I do not understand this. If the banks aren’t willing to give a loan to some shonky project like this one, what makes the Department of Energy so much wiser about monetary risks than the bankers who loan money for a living? Not only that, but the solar project is built on 1,600 ares (650 hectares) of government land. How does that work? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the Obama Administration is once again rewarding its rich friends with sweetheart “green” deals that line their pockets while screwing the consumer, but each new revelation never fails to shock me.
But wait, here’s the best part. The owners of the Crescent Dunes solar tower have signed an exorbitant agreement with the Nevada Power Company, which will pay them the absolutely outrageous sum of US$0.135 per kilowatt-hour … that’s a cent and a half more than my power costs in California, where power costs are already jacked up by this same kind of renewable nonsense. That means that after wheeling costs (the all-up cost of the transmission of the power) Nevada Power will be charging its customers something like sixteen to eighteen cents per kilowatt-hour or so for power which is unavailable half the time …
And despite that, I keep hearing from the innumerate that solar power is competitive with fossil fuels.
In summary, the Crescent Dunes project burns birds alive, it only provides part-time power, it uses nearly a million gallons (3.4 million litres) of water per day, it’s only possible because of government collusion, it didn’t provide the jobs claimed by its owners, and it delivers hideously expensive power … but by gosh, it is renewable, so all is forgiven and what’s not to like?
In any case, once the bird-murdering madness was thankfully behind us, we arrived at Tonopah where we’re spending the night.
My regards to all commenters, even though I don’t answer your comment please know that I’ve read it. As before, if you’d like to hoist a beer with us and are on our way, email me at willis.eschenbach at yahoo . com. I can’t promise to answer your email, but it will indeed be read and appreciated.
All the best,