The solar energy projects in California Valley proposed by First Solar and SunPower deserve our full support. These are the type of projects we need to bring large quantities of green electricity to the state quickly, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign oil.
These benefits seem self-evident. Yet, instead of support for these projects, we have witnessed nothing but roadblocks from both the county and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and North County Watch.
I have been a Sierra Club member for three decades, yet I am poised to leave the club due to their continued blanket opposition to any sort of industrial facility, even green projects. The Sierra Club and North County Watch support rooftop solar and distributed generation using the existing grid, yet as it stands now, only the wealthy have the resources to install rooftop units and we continue to make little progress on that front.
How many electricity-generating solar roofs are in your neighborhood? The California Valley plant sites are adjacent to existing transmission lines and can connect to the grid now.
There are legitimate concerns regarding endangered species at the project sites, such as the giant kangaroo rat. But it is irresponsible to say these projects will “destroy the environment in order to save it” as stated recently by the president of North County Watch. Immediately south of the project sites is the vast Carrizo Plain National Monument, with more than 250,000 acres of very similar grassland habitat for endangered species, including the giant kangaroo rat.
The monument area is forever off-limits to developers including “environment destroying” solar power companies. By comparison, the footprint of the SunPower project is just 1,900 acres, or 0.8 percent of the monument area.
SunPower reasonably proposed some adjustments to their project to minimize impacts on the kangaroo rat habitat. However, county planners objected to the alternative due to increased visual impact near Highway 58 and construction dust. Yet solar facilities are an excellent tourist draw and any increased dust would only be temporary while grading the site.
Please! We need to get some perspective and balance here and focus on the greater good. Remember, solar is emission-free power. No discharges of the greenhouse gases, particulates and sulfur dioxide associated with fossil fuel generation or the highly toxic waste products from nuclear power.
The county and environmental groups should proactively seek ways to support and encourage responsible development of large scale, renewable energy facilities to help us bring large amounts of green power online quickly. The clock is ticking and we need to act!
Erik Layman has been involved in the geothermal business for 30 years and has a master’s degree from Stanford University in geology.