Southern California environment news and trends

Big & hot in the Mojave desert at Brightsource's Ivanpah project

Got out to Brightsource's Ivanpah energy project yesterday, just near the state border, in eastern San Bernardino county.  Everything about Ivanpah is big: it'll double the amount of solar thermal energy available in the US when it's done, and a lot of it will come to southern California via Edison. (It's also big-unpopular with desert conservation activists in southern California; we'll talk about that another time.)

That picture, above, is from the rental car -  the temperature when I got to the parking lot near Primm. Didn't feel quite like that - but I drank 2 liters of water, so that probably helped. Also, the breeze. 

I should say up front it was a pretty controlled experience - part of it necessarily - as it's an enormous and active construction site - part of it corporate preference. Educational, still, and all, en route to the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 that I'll catch up to today. 

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Will Hurricane Irene leave behind a better power grid?

As Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast last weekend, one was left wondering just how country’s aging electric infrastructure was handling the fallen trees, downed power lines, and blown-out transformers. In the end, as many as 5.48 million homes and businesses were left without power in the wake of this massive storm. As companies work to restore power, will they be able to improve the grid?

Christine Tezac is a Senior Energy and Environmental Policy Analyst for Baird. She spoke with CNBC on Sunday. According to Tezac, there could be a stimulative effect to rebuilding the damaged parts of the 50-year-old grid. It will “provide an opportunity to put in more advanced, digital transformers and to string new lines. It certainly provides the opportunity to increase the automation and digitization on the distribution system.”

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Blythe scraps solar thermal for photovoltaic

Just how low can the price of solar photovoltaic arrays go? Low enough to keep a Riverside County project (and its construction jobs) alive. 

Last week Solar Millennium announced it would pause the Blythe project - proposed as a gigawatt of concentrated solar thermal energy in 2009, approved in 2010 by the Bureau of Land Management and the state of California - for "retooling." The Inland Empire got freaked, a little - that project has meant an oasis of jobs in the desert - ecological, and metaphorical-economic. 

But the retooling is already over. Now half of that power will come from solar panels - 500 megawatts coming from panels like the kind people put on their rooftops.

Blythe needs re-permitting to switch to solar photovoltaic - they're reinitiating the process with the BLM and California's Energy Commission. But Solar Millennium will be able to bring power on more quickly, in a smaller but steadier trickle, once it starts.

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LA Department of Water and Power's solar incentive program to restart Sept. 1

Concerns from the solar industry about the LADWP's solar incentive program crystallized in the middle of yesterday's 7 1/2 hour LA City Council meeting. With the City Council sending the program back to DWP and back into gear as of September 1, they may not have been answered. A problem is that nothing the city council has asked of the solar industry and the DWP in the last two days of council sessions tells us whether they were. 

Ken Button, the president of Verengo, and SunRun's director of government affairs, Ethan Sprague, represented companies that offer lease-based financing of PV rooftop installations. Sprague told the council that "90 percent of the lease market" was objecting to the DWP's new solar rebates. He and Button estimated that people who could have spent little to nothing up front would have to spend four to five thousand dollars under the new program. 

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Bad news for Bryson: NRDC, Climate Change stymie him with Inhofe

John Bryson's nomination to the position of Commerce Secretary hit a bump today - and part of what slowed him down again was his association 40 years ago with the beginning of the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

It seems everyone forgot that after he was there when the idea of the NRDC started he also went on to run a major utility. Bryson tried to remind them: he vowed in a hearing last month that he would take care of business. "Businesses in our country are too often stifled by absolutely unnecessary, cumbersome regulation," Bryson said. "If confirmed, I will be a voice in the administration for simplifying regulation and eliminating those where the cost of regulation exceeds the benefit."

Over the last month, the Hill has barraged Bryson with concerns that his environmental views were too liberal. Also at the center of those concerns are comments he made about limiting carbon emissions - like, that he thought we should do it.

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