Power to the lizards


Michael Raffety

All kinds of mischief can take place in the final months of an administration. For example, consider the Obama administration’s effort to fast-track solar and wind power installations on 10 million acres of the Mojave Desert.

This is multi-use land controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The actual breakdown, according to figures in a San Francisco Chronicle story by Carolyn Lochhead, is 388,000 acres, which is more than 600 square miles for renewable energy. An additional 842,000 acres will be available if needed. The potential that could be developed is nearly 2,000 square miles.

Also, 5 million acres, or 7,812 square miles will be set aside for conservation.

I’m not sure about the nature of the “conservation” set-aside, since the BLM is supposed to allow mining, oil and gas drilling, hunting, recreation, grazing and logging on its land. The only thing for sure on the 5 million acres of conservation set-aside is that it won’t have any windmills and solar panels. That’s something.

That many solar panels will provide a lot of shade for lizards, which may not be good for a cold-blooded animal that needs warmth to getting moving.

President Obama has promised to install 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on federal land, according to the Chronicle report July 25. That would power 3.28 million homes.

Solar, however, has diminishing returns. Information my son learned in Northwest Lineman College is that the power generated by solar panels declines 10 percent annually. Compounding that factor means after five years a solar panel is only generating 60 percent of what it did when it was first installed.

Providing that much shade in the desert is going to have an unnatural effect on the desert’s plants and animals.

The most damaging kind of so-called renewable energy is the windmill. They are just another killer of hawks and eagles. The Chronicle story featured a photo of burrowing owls.

When my wife and I visited Col. Allensworth State Park south of Hanford it was the first time I saw burrowing owls. Unlike normal owls, these burrowing owls were perched on the sides of buildings in the daytime. Windmills and even solar panels will interfere with these owls. Burrowing owls are out and about during the daytime, but they actually do most of their hunting from dawn to dusk like normal owls. They do have long legs and can sprint after their prey.

The real bird killer is the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. It is a vast array of 300,000 mirrors directed at 450-foot-tall towers with boiler tubes that generate steam to run electric-generating turbines. The computerized 10-foot-wide mirrors generate enough heat to fry birds as well as boil water.

A lot of the desert is already taken up by the military. The Navy’s China Lake facility takes up 1.1 million acres. The Marines at 29 Palms have 1.4 million square miles. The Army’s Ft. Irwin is 1,000 square miles. The Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range occupies 456,000 acres.

When my kids were younger we spent Thanksgiving at a hotel just outside of Death Valley. When my son and I got up early to take some photos from Zabriskie Point we were treated to a flight of a pair of F-117 Nighthawks sweeping over the Panamint Mountains. At that time they were still somewhat secret.

The military has a big footprint in the desert, but I have to think massive numbers of solar panels will have a completely different effect than runways and housing.


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