Southern California environment news and trends

Solar gets a go on federal public land in California [UPDATED]

Jazzfest in New Orleans was where I first really became acquainted with the phenomenon of playing the star on stage. The drummer would tap his sticks, the backing band would start, and eventually Ray Charles or Allen Toussaint would amble into position...and start to play.

Solar developers started the drumbeat about 5 years ago to get projects going on public lands in the West, and they've finally played Allen Toussaint on stage. Except I'll end the metaphor here, otherwise Allen Toussaint becomes a "record of decision" - a document signed by the Secretary of Interior permitting two companies using two different solar technologies to construct projects on public lands.

It's a big deal because renewable energy projects have been constipated in the digestive system of the government for years. This is the first time solar projects like these have been permitted on public land.

One project in the Lucerne Valley belongs to Chevron, whose Energy Solutions division will build solar PV panels on 422 of the nearly 6 million acres the Bureau of Land Management oversees in San Bernardino County. The project will have a "green screen" - both to camouflage its appearance and to keep dust down. The 45 megawatt project will also create 48 jobs, according to Chevron and BLM.

The other project in the Imperial Valley belongs to Tessera. the Arizona based company will construct a solar dish array on 6360 of the 1.2 million acres the Bureau of Land Management oversees in Imperial County. Tessera and BLM anticipate the 709 megawatt project will generate around 900 new jobs.

So far it sounds like everyone's thrilled about it.

SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR KEN SALAZAR: "These projects are milestones in our focused effort to rapidly and responsibly capture renewable energy resources on public lands. These projects advance the President’s agenda for stimulating investment in cutting-edge technology, creating jobs for American workers, and promoting clean energy for American homes, businesses and industry.”

DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE'S JIM LYON: “The ‘fast-track’ process has been a learning experience for all of us, and the lessons we’ve learned here will ultimately lead to better planning, improved siting, and faster turnaround for renewable energy projects in the future. To reduce its impact on wildlife and the environment, the Lucerne Solar Project was located on lands of lower habitat quality and near already degraded areas. And the Imperial Valley Solar Project will be developed in phases to lessen its impacts on wildlife, air and water resources. These projects illustrate how renewable energy developers can build our clean energy future in smart and environmentally-responsible ways.

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL'S JOHANNA WALD: “Chevron’s Lucerne Valley solar project is a great example of a project that’s smart from the start. The project fits the bill because, as a result of careful planning up front, its site has high solar potential, is close to existing roads and transmission, and avoids sensitive wildlife areas and other vital natural resources.
    Although the Tessera Solar project site in Imperial Valley met some of NRDC’s criteria, it initially posed resource and technology issues. Today, it serves as an example of what can be accomplished when parties are committed to finding solutions to such issues. During the federal and state reviews Tessera Solar moved the project out of sensitive desert washes, scaling it back to 709-megawatts, to reduce important impacts. Tessera Solar then sat down with NRDC and our conservation partners and agreed to develop the project in two distinct stages and other measures, all of which went above and beyond the requirements imposed by state and federal regulators."


Morning greens: Dirty pollution and clean solutions

downtownlosangeles Morning greens:

Avoid the beaches for a couple days. LAist reports that rain means urban runoff that rushes all the dirty, polluted gunk on our streets into our oceans, so Santa Monica’s environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay recommends staying out of the ocean water, lest you get the stomach flu or other ailments.

Does L.A.’s air pollution mean more diabetic Angelenos? A study new links diabetes and air pollution: “For every 10 microgram per cubic meter rise in fine particulate matter, they found a 1 percent increase in diabetes rates,” reports NY Times’ Green blog. Here’s today’s air quality forecast.

A lot of Southern California’s air pollution comes from cars. Could a partial solution be free bus passes for Santa Monica residents? City councilmember Kevin McKeown “proposed requiring developers to pay for bus passes for each and every Santa Monica resident,” reports SaMo Daily Press.


Fish & Game grants more time for MLPA comments

Surfers, kayakers, spearfishermen, beachgoers, scientists, cities, charter boat operators, and anyone else you can think of: coastal resource users between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border have got more time to comment on the state of California's Marine Life Protection Act - 15 more days in fact. Fish and Game commissioners extended the comment period for the draft environmental impact report - a reasonable-sized page-turner just a touch over 500 pages long - until their next meeting, in the San Diego area October 20 and 21. The deadline was supposed to be today.

Fishermen had pushed for a 45-day extension - which, coupled with other notice requirements, would likely have pushed the adoption of the South Coast region's marine protected areas into a new year, under a new governor. (Guess they like their chances better with either Brown OR Whitman.)


L.A.’s Car-free Mad Man: Vincent Kartheiser

If you’re a car-free Angeleno who doesn’t miss an episode of Mad Men, you’ll love NY Times’ profile of Vincent Kartheiser, a.k.a. Pete Campbell in AMC’s Mad Men. The character may be kind of creepy — but the actor himself sounds like a very down to earth guy into a simple, car-free, and care-free lifestyle that could make many eco-minded L.A. inhabitants green with envy!

Forgetting that walking is actually a convenient way of getting around compact urban neighborhoods, Tricia Romano’s NY Times piece opens by saying mass transit is Kartheiser’s “only” mode of transportation. From there, Kartheiser shows the reporter how he gets around town via Metro — whistling and gliding down the stairs to the Metro Red Line station, talking car-free travel with a fellow imbiber at Gold Room in the Echo Park, and explaining that the transit ride to the Mad Men set gives him time to read, do puzzles, and go over lines.


UC Irvine researchers see the sea, and more of it, in satellite images

A team of scientists - led by researchers at UC Irvine - has made new estimations of sea level rise from freshwater flowing into the world's oceans.

Jay Famiglietti, UC Irvine Earth system science professor and principal investigator on the study, says rivers and melting polar ice fed 18 percent more water into the world's oceans by 2006. That's an average annual rise of 1.5 percent.

"In general, more water is good," Famiglietti said in a UC Irvine-penned release. "But here's the problem: Not everybody is getting more rainfall, and those who are may not need it. What we're seeing is exactly what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted - that precipitation is increasing in the tropics and the Arctic Circle with heavier, more punishing storms. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people live in semiarid regions, and those are drying up."