NPR – Protecting Part of the Mojave Desert from Being Leveled and Graveled for Solar Energy Collection Systems
Yesterday morning, NPR had a segment discussing the controversy over protecting certain portions of the Mojave Desert from solar energy development. It describes how one project developer was planning to grade and level 5500 acres of land and then cover that cleared area with a quarter of a million truckloads of gravel to form the foundation for the panels they wanted to install.
Though some might assume that my dislike of industrial solar energy development comes from my strong preference for nuclear energy, I prefer to attribute it to a deep and abiding respect for places that are often described as empty wastelands. I have not had the opportunity to spend much time in deserts, but I have visited on occasion and been fascinated by what I found. The maps and wide area photos may look empty, but the close in reality is often quite different.
Last spring, my wife and I joined a couple of good friends for a trip to Utah to see some terrain that is not terribly different from the Mojave and that is also sometimes seen as a good location for solar energy collection systems.
My view is that we should tread lightly in places like this. Solar energy is so diffuse that it requires enormous collectors in order to add up to enough power to make it worthwhile to transmit. Those large collectors will inherently be idle or way below their full capacity for about 80% of the time. Not only is that a waste of valuable monetary capital, it is a waste of valuable natural capital in the form of no longer open spaces.
I don’t know if any of you saw this item from a Washington Post editorial:
“It appears that gasoline generators are at work pumping energy into Spain’s heavily subsidized solar panels. Of the 6 billion euros in government aid to the electricity market, 2.3 billion is lavished on electricity that is supposed to be produced by the sun’s rays, generating a mere 2 percent of the nation’s power needs. Under the profligate plan, anyone installing a solar panel can collect a check for 436 euros for each megawatt of power returned to the electrical grid. Several solar farms have sprung up as a result. As the newspaper El Mundo reported last week, at least 6,000 megawatts of purported solar electricity were generated during the dark evening and early-morning hours over three months. The decidedly nongreen use of generators helped the enterprising fraudsters walk away with at least 2.6 million euros.”
DV82XL – yes, I saw the story. However, as a DC worker, I need to help you understand that there is a significant difference between the Washington Times and the Washington Post.
Before blogging about it, I wanted to find some additional corroboration. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I still remember the Moonies.
My face is burning…what a stupid error.
Nevertheless it does show Marshall McLuhan was so right: the medium is the message, more so on the web than anywhere else.
Rod – Do you trust Bloomberg Businessweek?
The Spanish and German media have picked up on this story too. Don’t be so paranoid.
Gee, Rod. You don’t trust the Washington Times (rightly so; its bias is obvious), but you find the trashy, left-wing defamation and slander site SourceWatch.org credible enough to cite? You can be bizarrely inconsistent sometimes.
Brian – please understand that it is not a left-right thing for me. I just am not a fan of the Reverend Sun Yung Moon and think that his organizations was a bunch of nuts. If there is a similar group behind SourceWatch.org, please accept my apologies for being inconsistent. If the problem is that the site tends to lean “left” versus “right” I do not know what to tell you.
I am a liberal; I like people and like to work for the common good to make the world a better place. Collective action and individual responsibility with a strong dose of fairness and shame works well. I try to make sure that I am driven by facts and logic, however, and do not take anyone’s catechism as my marching orders or talking points.
Rod – No web site that has a portal entitled “Nuclear Spin” and that has an ominous page about a personal friend of mine is going to get any respect from me. Let’s see what SourceWatch has to say about the topic of your blog:
“The Nuclear Issues portal is intended to help readers find out more about those behind the global push to revive the nuclear power and and nuclear weapons industry. It also aims to facilitate citizen journalists document the activities of the individuals, lobby groups, PR companies, trade associations and front groups promoting what has been dubbed the ‘nuclear renaissance’. Every aspect of the nuclear industry will be covered from uranium exploration and mining, the nuclear power industry, spent fuel reprocessing, nuclear waste disposal and weapons proliferation.”
Keep working, Rod! Perhaps you too can have your very own SourceWatch page. Maybe you can even qualify as a “front group.”
I know that the Washington Times is biased, and I have no particular affection for Reverend Moon either. My point is that SourceWatch is just as biased and just as chocked full of nuts.
Try going through SourceWatch sometime and see what gets branded as a bogus front group (often correctly) and what obvious front groups get a free pass.
Being liberal shouldn’t mean checking your brain at the door.
@Brian – being pro-nuclear also does not mean that I have to be an industry cheerleader. There is plenty of corporate sponsored “stuff” that deserves to be understood. Based on the way that the industry has behaved – not the operators, mind you, but the corporate leaders – over the past 5 decades, it is no wonder why there is a lack of trust. I still cannot believe that Entergy executives suspended or fired 11 ENVY managers over what is essentially a matter of failure to communicate with the precision that engineers normally use. Why didn’t the recently released report clearly explain that the questioners asked the plant representatives about “buried” pipes and now claim that the discussion was about “underground” piping. For some people the words might be synonymous, but for people who operate under regulations with strictly defined terms, there is a huge difference between “buried”, “underground” and “below grade”.
Here is a quote from a recent USAToday summary of the situation at Vermont Yankee. The quote was preceded by a description of the recent vote in the Vermont Senate on the certificate of public good:
“If the board of directors and management were infiltrated by anti-nuclear activists, I do not believe they could have done a better job destroying their own case,” said Republican state Sen. Randy Brock, a surprise vote against the plant.”
Since Entergy is about as “nuclear” as the rest of the industry, perhaps that guess is not so far off of the real explanation for why the company has not done a better job of selling its nuclear plants as a benefit to society and an important pillar of both the local community and the entire region.
Bottom line – I cannot hold it against an organization that is full of investigative journalists if they decide that there are some juicy targets for their actions in the nuclear industry. I defend the technology and try to explain the physics. I am incredibly impressed by the operators and some of the designers. I do not much care for the executive and the boards of directors since they have somehow managed to allow the US to go for more than 3 decades without building the very best power source available.
Here is the link to the USAToday article mentioned above – http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-04-15-nuclear-plants_N.htm
Rod – Focus! Focus!
We were talking about bias in reporting, not Entergy. Whether Entergy (the former champion of the gas-cooled “Freedom Reactor,” which went nowhere, I might remind you) has done something wrong has nothing to do with whether SourceWatch.org has a bias. Please stop changing the subject to avoid the issue.
Now if SourceWatch’s focus, as explained on their “nuclear issues portal,” was simply about corporate corruption, then you might have a point. However, their site has simply declared war on “what has been dubbed the ‘nuclear renaissance’.” Simply put, they think that anything with the word “nuclear” is evil, and they are out to document (i.e., slander) the activities of even individuals who disagree with their preconceived notions about the technology and its demise.
(Aside: That means they’re out to “document” your actions too, Rod. They just haven’t gotten around to it yet.)
Do you really think that this “organization that is full of investigative journalists” (actually, it’s mostly run by only two people) is just out to expose corruption and dirty PR tricks?
Let’s get back to the topic of this blog post, shall we? Do you think that they’ve exposed any of the corporate corruption in the solar industry? After all, there should be some “juicy targets” in that field, considering the corruption in Spain that was just discussed here (which you didn’t believe at first because it appeared in the Washington Times). Well, I couldn’t find any hard-hitting expos?of the corrupt practices in the solar biz, but what I did find is rather interesting:
“New breakthroughs have brought the price down to be competitive with all other forms of baseline utility scale electric power. Less than 100 miles by 100 miles of this version of Solar Power can completely replace coal as a source of electric power – and supply 100% of US electric power demand.”
Of course, it’s also the same false BS that you regularly blog about. Do you still want to defend these “investigative journalists”?
SoureWatch.org is essentially the same as the Washington Times, except that they are polar opposites on the political spectrum. They’re both heavily biased. Actually, I have to give the Washington Times more credit, since they at least usually label Opinion/Editorial content clearly as such, whereas SoureWatch.org publishes all of its BS as if it were unquestionable fact.
In this case, I definitely have to give the Washington Times more credit, since they are willing to expose these frauds that occur in the publicly subsidized renewable sector. You’ll never read about any of this in SoureWatch.org.
@Brian – let’s call a truce here while I go and do some additional research on SourceWatch.org.
However, please do not try to equate that site with a print publication that has been running for at least 35 years with a daily issue aimed directly at getting into the hands of decision influencers in our nation’s capital. I have been a staff officer in Washington since 2001 and been engaged in many water cooler or morning coffee chats with colleagues whom I like and generally respect who have often injected biased and often factually incorrect information into our discussions. When I tried to push (gently, mind you, these are friends of mine) to find out what they were reading or who they were listening to, it often came to Fox News and/or the Washington Times. Those outlets often produce mere “reporting” as you describe, but they are pretty good at selecting what they report on and occasionally will ensure that the reports reinforce certain modes of thinking. For many readers, the distinction between what appears on the editorial page and the rest of the paper is lost – they can believe both with equal fervor and do not recognize that op-ed pieces can legitimately expose significant ownership and editorial bias.
The owner of Fox News is rather famous and obviously focused on accumulating vast quantities of wealth and power. I think I have made it pretty clear that I believe people with that kind of singular focus are very dangerous to all of the rest of us. The love of money is the root of all evil. For me there is a very clear difference between accomplishing big things that result in earning a lot of money (Steve Jobs is one of my heroes) and building dominant positions through “clever” business dealings that result in the lack of competitors (I often call that the Tonya Harding mode of competition). I also think there is a huge difference between making excellent products that enable vast numbers of people to live better lives and getting even more wealth through manipulations of the political system to change the distribution so that vast numbers of people each put dollars into the pockets of already wealthy people.
The owner/influencer of the Washington Times is quite a bit less visible to the public. However, you might find some of the articles at http://www.consortiumnews.com/archive/moon.html to be a bit on the scary side. I cannot yet vouch for their complete veracity, but they do seem to provide information that can also be found in other sources and that matches what I have come to understand about the way certain modes of thinking have influenced decisions being made in DC over a rather lengthy period. The source of money is potentially even scarier than a money focused monopolist.
One more thing – I did not dismiss the report about using fossil fuel generation to produce high priced “solar energy” as being false. I merely stated that I did not want to blog about it until I found some corroboration that was not just a repeat of the same article. I apologize for my seeming inconsistency by using SourceWatch.org as a reference, but at least in my mind there is a difference between a link that is just used to support a comment and a decision to avoid publishing a complete blog entry about a story that – at first – seemed to have only shown up in a source that I generally find to be quite selective in its reporting.
SourceWatch is pretty blatant about who they’re set up to investigate and disclose their biases. The Washington Times isn’t – just like Fox News isn’t. They both attempt to create a myth of a false center. Fox is well known for using a certain propaganda technique – tell a lie a million times and it becomes the truth, just keep repeating “Fair And Balanced”, or “Obamolech is a Kenyan Indonesian Socialist Terrorist Water Fluoridater!”, and my favorite, “Don’t retreat, RELOAD!”
No need for white flags; I’m not attacking you. Let’s relax.
I was more having fun with you than anything else. Nevertheless, as you might have gathered, I don’t like SourceWatch.
I’m fully aware of what the Washington Times is and who publishes it. I’ve agreed with you over and over that it is a biased publication that is not to be taken at face value.
I’m not surprised that you feel the way you do about it.
My position is that all media is biased in one way or another. Even supposedly “unbiased” news sources have inevitable biases. Reporters are only human, and they have their own opinions that often get transfered into their stories. Anyone who talks about an unbiased media is a fool in my opinion.
It’s refreshing when the bias is well known. For example, consider NEI Nuclear Notes (my official home on the blogosphere). Do you think that our reporting is not biased? Of course it is! This is a blog that carries the brand of the nuclear trade group (although I don’t work for or have any professional connection with the NEI). It reports positive news about nuclear. The bias is obvious.
I sit in the middle and take note of the idiocy on both sides. So if I call something “left-wing” or “right-wing” it is not an insult; it is merely a statement of fact. (“Trashy” is still an insult, BTW.)
The right has Fox News, the left has MSNBC. Big deal. Both sides have a powerful antagonist behind the scenes. The right has the devil from Australia, the left has the devil from Hungary. Both freely use their money to influence public opinion.
The Hungarian-American, however, supposedly has twice as much money as the Australian-American. So if money is the root of all evil (whether loved or not), is one twice as evil as the other? 😉
Please understand that the way you feel about the Washington Times is the way I feel about SourceWatch. As for the reason why, I think that you summed it up pretty well: “they are pretty good at selecting what they report on and occasionally will ensure that the reports reinforce certain modes of thinking.” Understand?
Go check them out, and please try to approach it objectively, at least initially. I know that you have a few axes to grind with various folks — e.g., utilities and fossil fuel companies — and it’s all too tempting to get carried away when someone reinforces what you already think. That’s called “Confirmation Bias,” and it has been a recent topic of discussion at Nuclear Fissionary.
P.S. Steve Jobs earned almost all of his money by basically stealing technology and innovation from Xerox.
My heroes are Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Brian Kernighan, guys who never earned a lot of money, but who had far more influence on computers today than Steve Jobs ever did. For example, the operating system used by Apple’s computers for the last decade is a direct decedent of their work.
@Brian – interesting. However, please do not forget that the actual phrase from Timothy about money is “The love of money is the root of all evil.” That phrasing is very important because it is intended not to condemn rich people or the existence of money as a tool to enable commerce and the effective valuing of dissimilar objects.
The admonition is designed to warn people about the dangers of worshiping money and putting it first above all other things. That is the hazard that generates evil, because if people LOVE money, they will step all over others in order to get it. They will take action that is WRONG and claim it is okay as long as it is not actually illegal. Some will even claim that it is okay as long as you do not get caught. Love of money brings us drug smugglers, illegal arms dealers, hit men, and economic hit men that have no fear of wiping out the vitality of entire countries through financial manipulation as long as they make some money in the deal.
With regard to Jobs – do you really believe that his success comes from “stealing” software from Xerox more than 30 years ago. Could it not be because he has an incredible sense of design, a desire to design products that delight his customers, a set of high standards that require speedy performance, a desire for minimalist simplicity, and a finely tuned set of presentation skills? Can the man who recognized the value of what the folks at Pixar were doing and supported them out of his own pocket for several years before they completed Toy Story is just an intellectual property thief? My understanding is that he is a man who recognizes value and opportunity WAY before the majority of other people do AND he has developed the skills and resources to take advantage of that opportunity.
Finally – I recognize bias. I embrace bias driven by making judgements and running the numbers. I am biased towards atomic energy, something that anyone who has ever read any of my publications or listened to my Atomic Shows should readily recognize. What I am concerned about is the skilled use of well known techniques for mass opinion shifting (aka propaganda) being paid for by people who not only are often driven by “the love of money” but sometimes by the hatred of freedom, democracy and individual choice.
I do agree, Brian, that the page about your friend on Sourcewatch is pretty low and is generally contemptible.
Rod – With regards to Jobs — and this is getting very off topic — he didn’t steal any software. I never said that. Rather, many of the ideas that are often credited to Jobs were, in fact, the innovations of Douglas Engelbart and his collaborators. Xerox was smart enough to hire many of the bright folks who had worked at Stanford Research Institute, and thus, were able to take Engelbart’s ideas to the next level. Unfortunately, Xerox was a large company run by too many stupid MBA’s who thought of the company as being only in the copying business, and thus, it did not know what to do with such innovative technology.
That’s where Jobs comes in. He took what he saw at Palo Alto Research Center, stole it, and developed it, first into the Lisa and then into the Macintosh.
Since then, he has had his personal issues (first being forced out of the Lisa project, then out of Apple Computer altogether) and his failures (do you remember NeXT Computer? Not many people do). Eventually, he hit his stride — once again taking somebody else’s work (George Lucas’s computer graphics division) and turning it into something successful (Pixar), with the help of Disney.
Eventually, he found his way back home (to Apple Computer), and has been quite successful in turning that company around. Nevertheless, Apple is now the leader in gadgets — like iPods and the iPhone — not computers. Even their gadgets have had their uncertain starts. For example, the iPod was destined for oblivion until Apple finally had the good sense to give it a USB interface and provide a Windows version of iTunes. It only took them a couple of years to realize their mistake.
I’m willing to give Jobs all the credit that he is due, but he has always been more of an opportunist to me than an innovator. That is, he reminds me more of the people (particularly CEO’s) that you regularly complain about in your blog posts than somebody who is really at the forefront of innovative technology.
Jobs did have one great insight. He realized the niche for the “Computers for Dummies” version of the personal computer, and the need for a graphics-arts/desktop-publishing platform that would be easy to use by novices. And that’s pretty much where Apple computers sit today, in the niche that Apple carved out a quarter of a century ago.
What most Apple users don’t realize, however, is that any computer can meet those needs these days. Still, they seem to stick around only for the sake of brand loyalty. Well, Jobs does have a certain style (with those black turtlenecks and all) that appeals to a certain part of the market, so I’m not surprised.
Nuclear advocates should remember that style beats substance 364 days of the year.
P.S. I think that Paul was not quite correct. The love of power is far more dangerous than the love of money. How many times have you seen someone relinquish power for the sake of money? How many times have you seen someone spend money to gain power?
Perhaps they were getting paid for generating “negawatts”? /s
They are getting paid for generating negawatts which is a fantastic idea. Because after all, high taxes promote efficiency by stifling living standards and growth.
@Scott – the evidence shows that, in fact, in the 20th century, in the US, increases in tax – far from harming economic growth – actually seem to correlate with increases in economic growth (see 1913-1921, 1938-1973, 1993-1999 for more on this phenomenon). This is sort of perverse if you look at things from certain economic perspectives. Also, tax cuts and bank/finance deregulation actually seem to correlate with economic panics and recessions/depressions. For instance, 1929-1933 was preceded by 1921-1929, 1987-1993 was preceded by 1981-1987, 2008-present was preceded by 2001-2007.
Let me venture a theory: the US had high taxes and labor costs, but also extremely high worker productivity and extremely low energy and raw materials costs. You also had a government that protected American industry through tariffs and continuously reinvested taxes into infrastructure, research, technology, and education and primed the pump through consumption of large quantities of goods. So, you had a government that worked to make sure that everyone won. It seemed to work, too.
We’ve gone away from that, though, to the maximization of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Unfortunately, this leads to everyone losing, it appears.
But, hey, I’m just a practical man, and economics is mystifying to me. After all, it’s the only branch of modern academic inquiry (aside from philosophy) that uses ex nihilo reasoning, rather than evidence-based inquiry, where it is more important that the proposed model of a phenomenon work in theory, than it is that the proposed model of a phenomenon work in reality. So I obviously know nothing.
Something is troubling me about the story you linked to. It said that to prepare one of these sites for a solar thermal plant it would require 250,000 truckloads of gravel. That seems like a lot of trucks burning diesel and pouring co2 into the atmosphere. If one of the purposes of building these plants is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere wouldn’t a constant convoy of gravel hauling trucks zero out that goal?
@Bobcat – good point. The best way to answer the question would be to determine the sources of the gravel, the amount of energy required to mine it, put it into trucks, move it to the location of the array, and then spread it and level it. Of course, once you have done that computation, you will have to figure in the cost of making and transporting the solar panels or mirrors, the transformers, the transmission lines, etc. Then figure in the energy and water required to keep the arrays clean. . .
There is a reason why diffuse, unreliable energy sources like the sun have been essentially ignored by numerically competent engineers and scientists for thousands of years. It is hard work to build and maintain the collectors. If you understand the mechanical engineering definition of work, you will understand why energy engineers are “lazy” people who want to build systems that require the least possible amount of work to build and maintain.
I have done a lot of research on solar thermal. There are two designs. Designs that do not work (if making electricity is the criteria). Hybrid designs that make a coal or gas fired power plant less efficient.
It is a scam. About ten years ago, I was working on renewable energy project development. One of the difficulties is the number of scam artists around. It is hard to get in the door with people who are serious about making electricity. Second, if you are serious about making electricity with renewable energy; the practical sources of renewable energy (biomass, geothermal) do not have the sex appeal of solar.
In the “dislike” of solar power department: I dislike solar because the people touting it feel they need to spread lies about nuclear power. Moniz appeared on stage with Romm at Dartmouth recently. Moniz had to listen to Romm trot out the we don’t need any more baseload line (“Wellinghof is saying it and he’s in a position to know” says Romm), the nuclear power is too expensive (Romm called it “priceless”), and the build the solar dream at any cost starting now and the costs will come down line. Moniz told the crowd what Romm was saying was “not true”, was “inaccurate”, I would have said Romm is lying, he disputed the no baseload is required line by saying “I don’t care who is saying it”, this is BS, and at the end, after Romm had described the build it expensively now and it will cost a lot less in some future dreamworld line, Moniz said, “I am just, neutrally, going to quote my colleague John Deutch”:
Learning curves are the refuge of scoundrels,
then, pointedly, he said to Romm: “You can argue with John”.
Romm, somewhat taken aback, said: “I would never argue with John”. Romm may not argue with John, but this doesn’t, and won’t stop him from repeating his same case using the same lies. No wonder pro nukes say they “dislike” an industry that should be irrelevant except for basic research at this point.
If solar industry people tell lies about nuclear power, then nuclear people will tell the truth about solar: this is, aside from heating domestic hot water with some kind of electric or fossil powered backup, and powering calculators, solar is practically useless.
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