The federal government of California has passed a law that requires its power generating companies to utilise renewable sources of energy to generate electricity by a scale of thirty three percent before the year 2020. The main form of this renewable energy identified by the Californian government for generation of electricity is tapping into solar energy through development of giant solar power projects in the Californian desert. As a result, the Californian government has passed a proposal of developing many large solar power projects the undeveloped lands of the Californian state. The public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management is the land that has been earmarked for development of the solar power projects (Bryce 65)
The bureau of land management is in the process of approving land for the building of 34 large scale solar power projects with a potential of generating over 24,000 megawatts on 300,000 acres of desert land in California .The Bureau for Land Management has leased some pieces of land to companies for the development of the solar projects. The allocated land has been projected are to cover the parts of the Californian desert such as riverside, East iron Mountain, Imperial east and Pisgah. This decision to develop the solar power projects in the desert has attracted praise for making California a pioneer of development of renewable and cleaner energy in America and for the economic benefits, the solar projects will bring to the region (Honer 65).
However, this decision to build the solar powered projects has also won condemnation from environmentalists and Native Americans and other interested parties because they view the project as encroaching on their culturally sensitive and archaeological lands as well as threatening the flora and fauna in the region (Honer 67). This paper explores the impacts the environmental, socio and cultural impacts the construction of the desert solar power projects in California will have on California. The paper begins by giving a highlight of the solar powered projects and then it explores the many environmental, socio and cultural issues the development of the solar powered system has generated. The paper concludes by looking at the alternatives available other than the building of solar powered stations in the Californian desert. The conclusion of the paper also outlines the recommendations on the best way forward for construction of the solar powered projects in California.
Desert solar power Projects overview.
The California energy commission and the Californian Interior department have approved the construction of eight big scale solar power projects to be built in the Californian desert. These eight solar power projects are the first to be granted approval for construction out of the 34 proposed solar power stations in the Californian desert. Seven of these solar powered projects are in the deserts of the Coachella valley .The land allocated by the Bureau for Land Management is mainly undeveloped land managed by the BLM. The eight approved projects have been projected to have many benefits to the economy of California. For example, the eight projects are expected to generate 36oo megawatts of electricity that can power over 2 million homes in the state of California (Komoto et al 332).
The construction of these solar power projects is also poised to make 5500 jobs available during the construction of the project and one thousand permanent jobs after the completion of the construction of the solar power projects. The solar powered projects are also expected to generate about 15millon in taxes as property taxes and many more taxes as the projects are built. Many solar powered stations are in the stage of approval by the Californian energy commission and this means that the development of the power stations will open desert land to development in California. These projects have made California to earn the reputation as the leader in the use and development of green and clean energy but the developments of the solar power projects have generated debate over some of its impacts on the environment and the socio cultural heritage of Native Americans (Bryce 92).
Impacts of the construction of the solar power projects in California.
The construction of the Californian solar power projects has made environmentalists worried that the approval of the use of huge pieces of public land has caused and will continue to cause an irreversible harm to the desert ecosystem. The construction of the solar powered projects threatens the flora and fauna in the desert and environmentalist are worried that the cost of the project to the environment is too high (Desantis & Gindrich 427).
Environmentalists are also concerned about the loss of nearly a pristine desert ecosystem that has not had many human encroachments for a long time. The construction of the solar power plants will lead to devastation of a large part of pristine lands and habitats. The pristine desert soils have also been turned into industrial zones and environmentalists are worried that once the solar power projects are constructed, there is no way the desert can be refurbished to its original form. Although there have been many environmental impact assessments studies done of the feasibility of the construction of the solar power projects in California, there are many unresolved environmental issues(Honer 122).
One thing that has remained controversial is the habitat for the tortoise found in these Californian deserts. The initial plans were to relocate these tortoises to other locations in California but these plans were opposed by environmentalist because they believe that the transfer of the tortoise will result to high death rates for the tortoise due to spread of disease. The plan of moving the other wildlife in the dessert was also proposed for other organisms in the desert (Desantis & Gindrich 149).
The construction of the eight solar power projects in California also poses the risk of the loss of the scenic beauty of the desert, the loss of habitat for the milkweed and the loss of multiple use lands. However according to the Californian energy commission, the project benefits to the economy of California are more compared to the drawbacks because the projects helps address the problem of climate change because it entails the use of a renewable resource in the generation of electricity and has huge economic benefits for the Californian economy (Bryce 144).
The other issue that has been raised about the construction of the solar powered projects in deserts of California is the encroachment of the religious and the cultural sites of Native Americans .American Indians have protested the construction of solar powered plants on their sacred land. The deserts of the Californian also have Glyphs or large earth drawings that represent the rich cultural heritage of the Native Americans. This means that the building of the solar powered stations in proximity to these earth drawings threatens the cultural heritage of Native Americans. The loss of land rich in cultural heritage for the Native Americans means that the construction of the solar powered projects threatens the cultural heritage of the Native Americans. The Native Americans ands their supporters have held protests and gone to the courts protesting the incursion of their cultural lands by the companies developing the solar power stations (Desantis & Gindrich 342).
The construction of the solar powered electricity stations in the Californian desert will also influence the water efficiency usage in the deserts of California. The impact of the construction of solar power stations projects on the surface and the ground water will be differently depending on the nature of the projects because the use of water by the solar power station and the source of the water will determine the magnitude. The solar powered stations that will obtain their water through diversion of surface water or pumping of ground water will have severe impacts on the delicate ecosystem of the desert. The complex nature of Californian desert hydrology and the impact of the construction of solar powered stations means that the issue has remained contentious for environmentalists about the overall effects the projects will have on the Californian desert ecosystem (Honer 69).
The effect each solar power station will have on the ecosystem of the California desert will be determined by the technology of the solar power station. For the solar powers stations that are built in the design of dry parabolic tunnel, their water usage is minimal while the ones that use wet parabolic tunnels, the water usage is high. The power stations like Invanpah and Rice solar energy project designed in the use of power towers consume little water as the cooling system while Calico and imperial Leather solar power stations do not consume any water at all. However, the cumulative impacts of the development of the solar power stations in California will have an effect on the hydrology of Californian desert (Desantis & Gindrich 429).
The development of the solar powered electric stations in California also presents the problem of human encroachments into the desert of California. The construction of infrastructure to support the solar powers electricity generating stations and the ploughing of desert land will damage the top soil of the dessert that acts as a crust that absorbs carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere. The construction of these power stations means that this property of the soils of California will disappear with time because of human interference (Komoto et al, 318).
Human encroachment of the California desert will expose wildlife and plants in the desert to abuse by humans. Their habitats will also become more prone to abuse by humans than before. The construction of the solar power stations and the supporting infrastructure like roads, and power lines will interfere with the habitat of wildlife in the desert and this can cause death to animals in the desert (Bryce 68)
The developments of the solar power stations in the deserts of California also threatens the archaeological sites that are in the Californian desert .These sites are also under the risk of destruction by the human encroachment and destruction due to the big scale of the solar power projects. The air qualities of the deserts where the solar power stations are also under construction also mean that the construction staff will suffer from respiratory illnesses due to dust bowls of the Californian dessert. The other problem that has arisen from the building of the solar power stations is the modification of the climate of the Californian through replacement of soil abedo. This means that the replacement of the soil abedo (the reflective nature of the soil) with the shiny refractive surface of the solar Panels can cause a change in the climatic systems of the Californian desert (Desantis & Gindrich 437).
The other likely problem brought about by the building of the solar power facilities in the Californian desert is the Aeolian wind process. The construction of these solar power stations in the desert means that amounts of dust released into the atmosphere during construction will be very big and it will interfere with plant and animal life in the desert. Since most of the nutrients of plants are stored within the first layer of soil, excessive loss of soil through dust can cause depletion of nutrient in the outer layer affecting the growing of plants in the desert (Honer 143).
Dust released during the construction of the solar power station will also cover plants with dust interfering with the photosynthetic activities of plants and reduced germination rates due to interference with pollination. The many impacts development of the solar power stations has necessitated the exploration of other alternatives to the development of the power stations in the desert (Honer 145).
Recommendations on the construction of the desert solar power projects in California
The development of the solar powers stations in California on land leased by the bureau of land management means that the leased public land comes with a costly affair of the need for environmental conversation. This concept makes the idea of the development of the solar power stations in California on private land rather than public land very attractive. Private land is better for the development of the projects because much of the private land available in California include former agricultural land cleared for projects that were not finished. This means that most of the available land in California is not in a predestine condition and this land is very ideal for solar power projects because the land has less delicate ecosystems and less wildlife (Komoto ET al.320).
Private lands are also ideal for developments of these solar power stations because of the construction costs of the can go down because much of needed infrastructure like closeness to power transmission networks and roads are more available in private land than in the deserts. The Californian energy commission should therefore rationalize the process of solar power projects development on private land as an attempt of saving the Californian desert lands from nay form of human encroachment. There needs to be a balance in the need to preserve the delicate ecosystems of the deserts of California and the need to utilise renewable sources of energy in electricity development. (Honer 79).
Another approach proposed as an alternative to the construction of the solar power projects in Californian deserts is the growth of privately owned solar farms. Under this system, each household can utilise their own land and other facilities to install small solar power stations that can be used to power these households (Bryce 176). This option is the most viable alternative because it eliminates the need to use any public land in the production of clean energy in the state of California.
The apprehensions of environmentalist about the use of huge open pieces of public land to develop the solar power stations have made the power companies to use advanced technologies in the process saving many thousands of acres of the desert from what originally they intended to use for development. As solar power technologies advance into the future, the technologies may offer better ways of developing solar power stations without necessarily having to use much space on public land (Matheny 5).
There will always be fights in the state of California over the use of desert land for the development of solar power stations and clashing need for environmental conservation. The main feature that will drive the development of solar power generating projects is the requirement by Californian laws to switch to green and clean energy on a scale of 33 percent by the year 2020. Until there is a new invention of better renewable energies for use in generating electricity ,the Californian state and all the interested groups and stakeholders in the construction of the solar power electricity generating projects must learn to work together. Incorporation of the views of each stakeholder in the development of the solar power stations can ensure that the need for switch to clean and green power in California is achieved and at the same time achieving the preservation of the rich and the pristine deserts of California.