Southern California environment news and trends

US designates prime solar development areas across the West

Solar panels


It was announced today that the U.S. Interior Department, in conjunction with the Department of Energy, is set to publish the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement identifying 17 public zones across six western states for “utility scale” solar development. According to the Associate Press, the areas were chosen for having both the highest power-generating potential and fewest environmental impacts by way of the two-year report.

“This is a really big milestone in terms of environmentally sensitive and responsible solar development,” said Helen O'Shea of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Having a roadmap for development and conservation and striking the right balance between the two is going to be critical for protecting our western landscapes as we build our clean energy economy.”


Power-generating solar film developed at UCLA

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Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Now that’s technological innovation. A team of UCLA researchers has created a transparent solar cell that can be converted into an electricity-generating film. As reported by Bloomberg, the film could potentially be sprayed onto everything from car sunroofs to personal devices like an iPad.

“These results open the potential for visibly transparent polymer solar cells as add-on components of portable electronics, smart windows and building-integrated photovoltaics and in other applications,” said Yang Yang, lead researcher and UCLA professor of materials science and engineering in a press release.

While the development of such a film would revolutionize the solar industry with the ease of installation (as opposed to the industry standard panels), Yang says a marketable retail version is many years to come. Still, he admits that “several companies” have contacted him with commercial interests in the technology.


CPUC approval for net energy meeting boosts solar industry and its customers for a few more years

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David McNew/Getty Images

Employees of Solar Forward install solar electric panels on a residential rooftop on February 27, 2009 in Santa Monica, California.

A few years ago, when I was first covering solar leasing, net metering was a big deal. “Look! The meter is spinning backwards,” the solar company dude said proudly. “That’s money in the homeowner’s pocket right there.”

The California Public Utilities Commission continues to share the solar industry’s enthusiasm for net energy metering. Today the PUC expanded a subsidy for this kind of arrangement by clarifying the language under which the subsidy is offered. According to the PUC, “doubles the amount of solar systems that can benefit from NEM, providing the benefits of solar energy to many more customers.”

Investor owned utilities must participate in the program, which requires them to pay customers for the full market value of the electricity they generate. Houses and businesses with qualified energy systems smaller than 1 MW can zero out their expenses for electricity. Without the clarification, northern and central California investor owned utility PG&E could fill up the program really soon. The effect of the clarification is to buy the solar industry more time to contribute to the state’s economy.


Song of the Week: "Desert Sun," for the California Assembly's Calico Solar action

Courtesy MojaveDesertBlog

Pacific Swell's song this week was inspired by the news about the Calico Solar facility proposed in San Bernardino county. Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times reports that the California Assembly is putting a 663-acre project near Ludlow on rails, fast tracking its approval so that it can meet deadlines in the Energy Commission. 

When what's generally called Calico got fast-tracked a couple of years ago, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called it "one of several projects in the pipeline that will help California and the nation build a renewable energy economy." Tessera Solar was supposed to sell the power to Southern California Edison; the future looked bright. It didn't turn out that way. Tessera sold to K Road. At best, the project has been embattled: it's been dragged into court. But if the Assembly's legislation takes effect, its fortunes could change. Writes Sahagun:


What's the German word for bankrupt? Blythe Solar Power Project's parent seeks protection

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Parabolic solar would have delivered solar power for the Blythe Power Project, until Solar Trust switched to PV panels. What happens now is anybody's guess.

While I've been off participating in the daily dispensation of justice under the law, a big solar project in Riverside County is hitting the skids. Solar Millennium is the German parent company behind Solar Trust, the Oakland-based company backing the Blythe Solar Power Project, and it's seeking Deutsche court protection for its debts.

Blythe's Solar Power Project won more than 2 million dollars in loan guarantees from the federal Department of Energy last year. Cue the turmoil: originally slated to use parabolic photovoltaic technology, plans shifted when project managers later ran the numbers and figured out that using solar photovoltaic panels penciled out better, largely because the price of PV had dropped precipitously. That forced the Solar Trust of America to gave up the loan guarantee