California may prove to be the testing ground for acceptance of large-scale solar, as environmentalists face off against renewable energy advocates.
A proposed solar farm in Panoche Valley that would be the world’s largest at 1.2 million panels covering an area of about 3,500 football field is coming under fire from environmentalists, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Dec. 21 that would protect a million acres of Mojave Desert, putting on hold 13 large solar plants and wind farms that had been proposed for the area, reports the New York Times.
Even if Feinstein’s legislation never gains traction, her continued opposition to renewable energy development in the Mojave Desert means that few if any power plants will be built in the area, observers say.
Gary Palo, vice president for development with Cogentrix Energy, a solar developer owned by Goldman Sachs, said it makes no sense “politically or practically” to proceed with renewable energy projects in the area.
Complicating the matter with the Mojave Desert is that much of the land was donated to the government by an environmental group with conservation in mind.
Meanwhile, back in the Panoche Valley, which sets less than 100 miles straight east of Monterey, Solargen Energy faces an uncertain future with its $1.8 billion project, which would produce 420 megawatts, or enough to power about 315,000 homes.
The company has signed options to purchase 18,000 acres of ranch land that has about 90 percent of the solar intensity in the Mojave Desert, reports the Mercury News.
Opposition from various chapters of the Audubon Society has focused on the size of the project and its effect on endangered species.
Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, instead suggests that solar advocates put panels over parking lots, along freeways and at airports and landfills.
Two other large California solar projects in San Luis Obispo County are facing opposition – a 250 MW project by SunPower of San Jose and a 550 MW project from First Solar, an Arizona firm.
The opposition is not putting all projects on hold.
Pacific Gas & Electric has contracted with SolarReserve LLC to construct a 150 MW solar-thermal plant in San Bernardino County.