Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
California's San Bernardino County restricts construction of solar, wind farms (latimes.com)
191 points by rhegart 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 200 comments

San Bernardino County is home to the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility [1], which is a mirror-focused solar thermal power plant. It generates a lot of glare and is controversial for its impact on animals. It also took several years to ramp up to its promised output.

Solar panels don't have problem with glare, but the landscape of the county has large viewsheds of sloping treeless desert, so any facility will have a large visual impact. It also disturbs the ground and replaces the desert scrub with actual bare ground, which is more susceptible to dust, and dust is a problem that plant operators try to combat [2], but have long accepted as an inconvenient reality of siting in the desert.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivanpah_Solar_Power_Facility [2] https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7274289

> Solar panels don't have problem with glare

You clearly haven't been on a highway leading straight towards a hillside panel cluster [1] at that particular time of day and year when the reflection trail of the panels passes over the road. It's much worse than going towards dawn or sunset because those are toned down do much by atmospheric attenuation. All you can do is blindly maintaining speed and hoping that nobody in front of you panics. We have a lot to learn about panel placement and permits, maybe we need to deliberately add jitter to panel orientation in locations where the reflection beam would pass over sensitive locations like high speed roads or even go back to heliostat installations there. (Or at least have some minor articulation capabilities to aim the reflection away)

[1] http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=NM32&daddr=E56&geocode=Fet... I think it was at the location marked in the link, the end points of the route mark the glare source and target. IIRC it is an unrestricted stretch, where on a Sunday when trucks are not permitted even the slow lane often travels at 150 kph or more

EDIT: I apologize. I misunderstood the statement.


It's the same light from the sun that you say is attenuated by the atmosphere before reaching your eyes that is reflected from the solar panels. It is literally impossible for it to be worse.


When the reflection hits the sun is higher in the sky. The almost tangential rays at sunset/sunrise have a much longer intersection with earth's atmosphere.

Edit: no problem, maybe I could have been more clear :)

The problem is that it's coming from ground level, instead of up in the sky.

> Ivanpah Solar Power Facility

Blew my mind when I drove past that (on the way to Las Vegas?).

I swear it appeared as though the air was incandescing at the top of the tower where all the sun's rays were focused. Def something out of a Sci-Fi film....

You truly don’t understand how blinding it is until you drive past it. I didn’t realize it was in San Bernardino.

I saw it driving from Las Vegas to SF. Remember it being near Zzyzx which reminded me of Sonic Youth music video.

Birds literally burst into flames in the air.

There's the Crescent Dunes Solar Plant outside of Tonopah, NV which is also on the way to Las Vegas. It's further away from the road I believe but it's equally as blinding. The first time I drove past it I was shocked.


The glowing tower contains molten salt, used to store the focused solar energy. [1] I never knew that was a thing until I too drove past it. It was one of the more memorable sights on a 3000 mile road trip.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy#Molten_...

Or perhaps Fallout: New Vegas....

Definitely. Unfortunately I was driving by in heavy traffic (memorial day weekend rush to Las Vegas) or I would have slowed to find a safe spot to stop and take that sight in.

IANABotanist, but I wonder if there are plants that do well in sandy soil and shade that could be used as ground cover underneath the panels and keep the dust down.

IANABotanist either, but your real problem isn't finding the right species of ground cover. It's coming up with sufficient water in the Mojave desert.

Might be an interesting terraforming project: bring some water along with the electrical infra, plant drought resistant shrubs and watch as they start covering soil, capturing moisture and so on...

Or maybe just leave the desert ecosystem alone?

I am not sure why people think that a desert is bare and empty, I guess most just assume that because you can't see it as easily as you can in a forest that there is nothing there, but desert ecosystems are much more fragile than most other ecosystems and do not adjust easily to random interference.

But you have to grapple with the counterfactual. The status quo of not building some of these projects is we keep pumping tons of coal soot and gas fumes into the air. We are currently on course to destroy the ecosystem of the entire planet.

I won't pretend that I know these projects are well-sited or they couldn't easily be done in a better way to lessen their impact. But, you can't use "it has a new harm" as an a priori veto of changes when the status quo is so deeply, deeply harmful.

Any human activity had an impact on the earth. At some point even the most well-intentioned of us have to accept that some big benefits may come at some (ideally lesser) costs.

I would ask those locals if they are ok with having no electricity other than what they can generate themselves on their own houses.

Desert may be a fragile area, but what is the real impact of its disruption? Everywhere there are tradeoffs.

Phosphorous from Saharan desert sands fertilizes the Amazon.

Messing with ecosystems on a large scale will probably have serious side effects which we haven’t investigated; better to err on the side of caution.

Define large scale...

I grew up in San Bernardino County and never knew about this valuable info, thanks internet stranger!

It took me a while to find out why locals were saying solar farms cause dust storms. The locals claim solar farms destabilize the soil. Dust isn’t in the interest of the energy producer because it lowers efficiency so my assumption is that they would do everything to limit dust.

I guess I’m surprised that the LA Times would publish a claim like that without comment or caveat.

They’re just reporting what each side is saying without arguing against their claims. They leave it to the reader to make of it what they will. In my personal opinion, this is how reporting should be. Don’t do my thinking for me and don’t lead me in a particular direction.

I doubt most people actually believe dust has anything to do with it. They don’t want these infrastructure projects near them, plain and simple.

In my view, this is a problem if each side is making claims without any attempt at quantifying or disclosing the relative magnitude of effects. That's a case where a reporter could do a little digging and fill in those details. For instance, how much dust? How is it stirred up? And so forth. You can still make of it what you will, but with better information.

I encounter the same thing dealing with engineers. They will list a variety of objections to an idea, or "risks," without any attempt at quantifying the issues involved. Managers do this too. If I ask for details, it becomes my job to research it.

This seems to be one of the most common logical fallacies, especially in politics. I dont know if it has a name, but I call it "qualification without quantification".

It creates a logic chain that could happen, without any discussion of actual probabilities or costs.

For example banning of assault rifles, discusses how it could save lives. People are surprised to learn that there are less than 200 deaths per year from any type of rifle.

The same goes for universal background checks.

Exactly. Can the dust be mitigated? Maybe via replanting afterwards? Or maybe the panels need to be farther apart to encourage regrowth of plants? Is a square field of panels more destructive than a longer line of panels? Are there construction vehicles that can cause less damage to the existing plant life?

If journalism can't be bothered to do research maybe the rise of AI created factuals is well deserved.

Already you're assuming that the dust problem is truthful to begin with.

An investigative piece should actually look in to that claim rather than just repeat it. How can solar farms cause more dust than agriculture?

The article reports on the conflict between and claims of two parties. Doing research into claim validity has its place (investigative journalism) but not in an article that is just reporting on a conflict, in fact including such research would very likely be unethical.

You're going to have to explain how a journalist doing fact checking is unethical.

In a court of law, the judge isn’t allowed to do independent research unlike what you might have seen in the movies, they are simply allowed to listen to arguments on both sides and make a decision based on law.

A news article is like that in a court of public opinion where the public is the judge and the reporter is merely there to report on both sides of the argument, not supposed to be doing research on their own, it is up to the other side to fact check and add that to their argument, it isn’t the reporter’s job or even their place ethically.

There is definitely room for reporters doing fact checking and more involved investigative journalism, just not in that kind of article.

Like come other commenters here, I don't think it's a journalist's job to _do_ the research. However, the journalist can quite accurately report "X claims Y but says they haven't performed any research to quantify this claim".

The key is to ask the question.

> I don't think it's a journalist's job to _do_ the research.

Then who's job is it?

A suitable domain expert with a vested interest or funding from someone with a vested interest.

If there isn't such a person, then the research doesn't get done. I think this is fine, because by definition nobody cares. It's possible that only poor people care and they can't provide the funding, but then their political representatives should be able to find the funding. I accept that's not perfect, but it's generally how things work unfortunately.

That's not how journalism is supposed to work. One of the first lessons in Journalism 101 is if one source says the weather is sunny and another source says it's raining then a competent reporter should look out the window!


And when one source says they think it will rain in 20 days, and another says it they think it will not rain in 20 days?

Then source's credentials, data or other factual bases for the opinion can help the reader/listener/viewer decide (e.g. source1 is a 25y veteran meteorologist, source2's data is based on postings from 4chan).

Without facts and common assumptions, opinions are noise.

And when what was posted on 4chan was links to a series of meteorological studies and reports? I'm not being obtuse - I think this is actually a perfect example of one of the many problems here.

It's difficult to get (and in turn, give) a fair assessment of an issue without actually genuinely understanding the nuances of arguments on all significant sides. But issues are not simple and journalists are, in general, not qualified to meaningfully interpret the things they're reporting on. I think we've all probably experienced the pain that is reading an article that we happen to be experts on, yet we turn the page to something we're not experts on and suddenly expect it to be better?

Ideally providing 'context' would simply be that, but in practice 'context' can be, and frequently is, framed to cast an assessment on an issue - even when not intentional! Even your example here would be a perfect example of the inadvertent. Meteorological forecasts are pretty much meaningless at the 20 day level. Should our journalist mention this? Is failing to omit it misleading? There's just a lot of tricky issues like this. By contrast, if you simply report plain falsifiable facts directly driven by the story at hand, which would include things such as 'x' said 'y', you avoid all of this and simply have good, impartial reporting. That reporting could then be analyzed by more qualified parties to provide 'context'.

Then that factors into the reporter's evaluation of the source.

You're arguing a straw man of not checking out the sources sufficiently and just going off of surface impressions, when GP is arguing that digging into the sources is their job.

> But issues are not simple and journalists are, in general, not qualified to meaningfully interpret the things they're reporting on

The general public is even less qualified to interpret things being reported on.

Jouralists who just repeat the press releases that each party gives are I believe a net negative. They set themselves up to be propaganda mouth pieces.

> Meteorological forecasts are pretty much meaningless at the 20 day level. Should our journalist mention this? Is failing to omit it misleading?

At some point certain topics are maybe just not worth reporting on at all. If there's no way to make a 20 day prediction beyond a wild guess, then why bother reporting that there's even a disagreement? The report at this point is "Two people make different guesses as to the value of a random variable."

It serves no purposes to report, and only creates a debate on a topic that there shouldn't be a debate about.

I’d far rather read journalism that tells me what each side claims, regardless of how crazy it may sound, and allow me to decide for myself. I’m not an expert on journalism—it’s just my personal preference.

I don’t know whether the claim that solar farms cause dust storms is true or not, but it isn’t a matter of opinion. I want journalists to find experts and scientific evidence and tell me which side is telling the truth.

Like many issues there is not going to be a black and white yes or no answer. It's going to depend on the exact locale, the nature/type of terrain in the region, the type/specification/quantity of panels being installed, and a million other variables. When newspapers start getting into topics like this it invariable just ends up with corruption and bias as the conclusion is often whatever the executive team decides the newspapers' stance should be, which is going to be driven by politics, advertising, etc.

Ask somebody who wants to claim that solar farms can cause dust storms and he'll be able to make a sound logical case for it. Ask somebody wants to claim that solar farms do not cause dust storms and he'll be able to make a sound logical case for it. Even if the person reporting genuinely wanted, and was able (e.g. - not prevented by the newspapers 'official' stance on an issue) to do that, they simply would be grossly unqualified to do so. Reporters rarely have any sort of scientific background whatsoever.

Sure, issues can be complex and journalists can get things wrong even when they’re acting in good faith. But how is the average reader in a better position to evaluate the facts?

If the facts are genuinely not well-known or agreed-upon by experts, then absolutely report on that. Not so readers can “make up their mind” (since that shouldn’t be the goal, if experts can’t even agree), but so readers can understand the complexity of the issue.

> They leave it to the reader to make of it what they will. In my personal opinion, this is how reporting should be.

If one side lies out their ass or states "opinion" that is easily disproved as untrue, then it shifts the conversation without having facts.

In my view, proper journalism needs to reaffirm basic facts in their coverage so viewers/listeners don't have to put up with obvious bullshit or crazy opinions.

People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Chances are most readers aren't qualified to judge competing statements without further research and don't have time to do it. That's a reason newspapers became a thing in the first place.

> In my personal opinion, this is how reporting should be. Don’t do my thinking for me and don’t lead me in a particular direction.

That's the type of reporting that leads to false equivalence and IMO wastes my time.

I don't need to hear "both sides" of every argument. I don't have enough time to understand every complex issue in detail. What I do need is a smart journalist I trust to investigate the issue, determine the truth and than share that with me along with the evidence that lead them to that conclusion.

That's actually useful to me. Currently reporting of just "Person A said blah, Person B said foo" doesn't help me, it leaves the power with whether A or B are more eloquent, deceitful or experienced, not who is more truthful or accurate. It can still be misleading based upon which pieces are chosen to be reported, and the parts left out people will naturally fill in with their personal biases about how they believe the world works.

This is a type of enlightened centrism. Journalists should report but aldo be fact finders for the viewers. There is something about actual facts that I find newsworthy.

There are plenty of readers who aren't sophisticated enough to judge for themselves. This is exactly analogous to the vaccine debate. Journalists can and should add context where one side's argument is not supported by evidence.

You can have it both ways. Have a section of facts and statistics along with links. And have a section of opinion.

Media companies are heavy on opinion, and shockingly short on full facts. The vast majority of articles never do much work to explain where they get their information - usually its "a study shows this" or "Jane said that" without linking the study or the FULL statement and context in which Jane said what she said.

The thing that is frustrating is because of this we all just read from news sources we agree with. It's impossible to show people how they're wrong if you don't link original sources and I just have to take it on your word that it meant exactly what it meant.

I say this as someone who actually engages with people who disagree with me but with the quality of most news articles it's basically impossible to convince people of something against their current views using them.

Have you ever seen any heavy equipment operate before in a dry area? It churns up dust, this isn’t rocket science guys. It’s so obvious you shouldn’t need evidence.

> It’s so obvious you shouldn’t need evidence.

And that's how we end up with things like "obviously, we cannot have a climate change, I mean it's cold on the outside!!".

An experiment you can reproduce in a vehicle driving on a dirt road is a bit easier than measuring global climate change.

Experiment?! We don't want to hear about experiments!

How far does the does spread? How long until it settles?

This is a combine in a dry soybean field.


Now imagine a lot more vehicle traffic in a desert. I know lumber companies will spray water on dirt roads to keep the dust down, not sure if that’s a viable option out in a desert though.

That might explain the dust during construction.

What about a week after construction finishes. How about 10 years later?

There is something that rather confuses me about this logic. If somebody is not "sophisticated" enough to come to an informed opinion, are they truly in a better place parroting what they read from a newspaper instead of simply being informed of the choices? There seems to be an increasingly pervasive view that people must have opinions on things they have no clue about. I don't think a society full of opinionated people whose basis of argument stems from 'I read it online' is really in a better place than one where fewer people may have an opinion one way or the other, but those who do tend to be substantially more informed.

You might appeal to the nature of democracy mandating 'your' view, yet I would argue that this view is precisely what's causing a deterioration of our democratic processes. This push towards trying to encourage people who have no basis for taking a stance on issues, to take a stance, waters down the views of the informed and returns us to Socrates critique of uncredentialed democracy. Who ought choose the captain of a ship, everybody including those who've never sailed, or experienced sailors? I think this is mostly self evident to the point of being rhetorical.

In times before the internet people were less inclined to form an opinion on every single issue and so, in practice, we ended up with the self evident choice. But as that has changed, we're now having the butcher vote for Richius as captain because of an opinion he heard from the Town Crier. That crier just happens to be best friends with the son of of one particularly influential Senator. That son's never once sailed in his life, though he thinks 'it sounds like a lot of fun!' Of course that son's name - Richius.

The locals here cite dust coming from construction not some bizarre Solar Panel dust bowl. If you’ve ever driven through a desert or farm where there is heavy equipment operating it churns up a ton of dust. Not saying it’s a reason to block this but it’s a real thing.


> “These vast open areas are precious for their natural, historical and recreational qualities. But they are fragile, and no amount of mitigation can counter the damage that industrial-scale renewable energy projects would cause,” Fairchild told the supervisors. “Once destroyed, these landscapes can never be brought back.”

Because climate change won't destroy precious fragile landscapes? Okay, here's my deal: you get to keep your precious desert, but as long as you oppose local renewable energy, you can only subsist off the crops, livestock and other resources you can grow in the desert. Why should you benefit from the rest of us sacrificing our own landscapes to save ourselves when you aren't willing to do the same?

These huge renewable projects do have major ecological impact, why lie about it? Due to low power generation density they take up a lot of space compared to fossil fuel/nuclear plants and that's not including the large amount of power lines that have to be run to all these new facilities. There are well known negative ecological impacts from the solar farms in this area that others have pointed out.

Just because a desert or prairie ecosystem isn't as obvious a conservation target as a forest doesn't mean they are not valuable ecosystems that shouldn't be protected from development.

There's no free lunch in energy generation, every form of it has some ecological drawback. Look at this virgin forest that Georgetown University wants to cut down to put a solar facility up. How is this a net positive for the environment?


Well the alternative to more renewables is, realistically, more coal and gas. I think that covering up one or two percent of even the most valuable biomes with solar panels is no where near as destructive as climate change.

You conveniently forgot nuclear and your percents are off.

I support nuclear but it's impossible to build enough in the current political climate and it takes too long to build and is terribly expensive.

I don't think my percentages are off https://www.energy.gov/eere/solarpoweringamerica/solar-energ... 0.6% according to that article, so probably in the single digit percentages in real life.

Another alternative is reducing energy consumption. I'm sure the people of California have no problem with the consequences of that.

California already has some of the lowest per capita energy consumption in the US [1]. A good part of this is due to the mild climate where most Californians live, but some part of it choices people have made, like the widespread adoption of residential PV in cooling load dominated inland areas.

EVs are also taking hold faster in CA due to their better economics and broader cultural appeal in CA.

All these trends will lower the per capita energy consumption further without negatively affecting lifestyles.

1. https://www.eia.gov/state/seds/data.php?incfile=/state/seds/...

While it seems like a bad idea to cut down a forest to replace it with a solar farm, that's not virgin forest. As cited by the article, the land has been timbered before. There is almost no virgin forest left in the eastern US at this point.

From the article:

> The policy approved by the supervisors prohibits utility-oriented renewable energy projects — defined as projects that would mostly serve out-of-town utility customers, rather than local power needs — within the boundaries of Community Plans that have been adopted by more than a dozen unincorporated towns.

It doesn't seem like they're opposing local renewable energy. They're opposing renewable energy that is used primarily to serve out-of-town customers.

The same can be said about any power flowing into the county. Wikipedia indicates that the two major power plants in San Bernardino county are in solar, thus they must be importing power at night in order to meet the cities needs. Consequently the argument "They're opposing renewable energy that is used primarily to serve out-of-town customers" can be applied for any and all energy projects which has/is currently fedding the county. The power grid is communal resource, all communities benefit from it and as a result we all need to contribute to it, if not you'll end up with islanded power distribution systems that are a lot more expensive.

So somewhere else a powerplant should stop sending them power because they are the out of towners?

Your comment should be somewhere on top or in the beginning of the article. It completely changes the outlook on this community and it's a shame one has to dig down this far to find this out.

Argueably a very legitimate stance on the part of the community.

The whole takeaway from that is "it's difficult and I, the author, doesn't think it'll work because it's difficult". With lots of hand-picked examples of shortcomings of implementation loosely collected into a semicoherent justification for nuclear energy.

I'm all for nuclear energy, if it can be done safely. (The cost might be too high for it to be commercially viable, but if it's worth doing the state can subsidize for the good of humanity).

But that blog post does not succeed in making any sort of case for why solar and wind won't be enough.

Nuclear is safe. It's safer than coal, solar, wind, and pretty much every other form of energy. And cleaner too. But it's "nuclear" and "radiation," which means half the public enters a state of paranoia.

Do investigate the relative dangers of energy production.

The Fukushima disaster almost got to the point where they had to evacuate Tokyo.

I support nuclear power, but to say that it is without risks and the public is just irrational is disingenuous.

Nobody has nor anyone will die from Fukushima. Tokyo wasn't evacuated.

I didn't say nuclear is without risks, but it is safer than other methods of producing lots of electricity

This is just plain wrong.

Although only one person has died from radiation YET, over 2000 died during/from evacuation.


It's obviously poor evacuation or, more likely, the evacuation was unnecessary. The fault is of bureaucrats not nuclear technology.

Well unfortunately we live in a world of imperfect bureaucrats instead of perfect ones.

If someone tells you there's a 1% chance that if you don't evacuate millions of people would be exposed to dangerous radiation, would you give the order? 10%? 50%? these are not easy questions

One worker HAS already died from radiation exposure: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45423575 , and many more face increased cancer risk. And that's not to mention the cost of disaster response and cleanup in terms of money, manpower and opportunity costs. The cleanup cost will be more than US$187bn by an official estimate a few years back.

Furthermore, with Fukushima we got lucky! Had it not been for the rapid response nuclear pollution could have affected one of the biggest metropolitan areas and economic engines in the world, and vital fish stocks. The tail risk was real, and the consequences would have been earth-shattering for Japan. In any calculation like this, it's not only the odds of an event occurring that needs to be taken into account, it's the impact of that low-odds event too

I agree, I support nuclear power, but their are legitimate reasons to be wary of it other than just ignorance. Being anti-nuclear isn't just a case of being uneducated, some intelligent people who understand the technology are anti-nuclear as well

Is your point that we should stop building any solar or wind? Because if that is not your point, I don't understand what you're trying to say.

The point of the article is that unreliable energy like wind and solar with 35% and 25% capacity factors is extremely challenging to scale beyond those numbers. Large-scale low-carbon systems that are 24/7 reliable regardless of how windy or sunny it is may be more effective.

Lots of people are promoting 50/50 mixes of intermittent/unreliable renewables + nuclear.

The author of the article thinks the renewables are problematic and our money would be better spent just going for 24/7 reliable clean energy sources.

Solar and wind and batteries, or solar and wind and a very large grid will be enough.

Wow.. when I thought NIMBYism in California couldn't get any worst.

From here: https://www.sbsun.com/2019/02/28/san-bernardino-county-board...

" some residents say the prohibition will protect communities from potential health hazards caused by blowing dust, which increases when pristine desert land is disturbed by construction. They also sited the protection of scenic views, carbon sequestration from desert vegetation, and preservation of habitat and wildlife as reasons to prohibit large solar development."

Sure, let's have more coal from Nevada instead.

What did it for me was the time they successfully blocked the hospital helipad, literally killing people.


I was impressed with the community that didn't want their own kid's teachers living near them for fear it would reduce property values.


Moving the schools is not required to help the teachers find housing. The community reacted negatively to the way it was presented and the political games being played, including the media coverage which has been mostly simplistic and one-sided at best thus far.

Ideally the “new school” site could be turned into housing instead of destroying the center of the community which will require difficult zoning changes (currently 1 home per 5 acres I believe).

This too is "the media's" fault?

>will require difficult zoning changes

Communities are now too blinded by greed to make these decisions honestly. Zoning decisions need to move to the state level.

"sited the protection of scenic views..." that would have made a good pun, if it weren't instead the copy-editors just not catching the mistake.

Thank you. Bugged the heck out of me!

Coal-based generation in Nevada (from coal mined elsewhere) does exist, but the remaining plants are in the I-80 corridor, linked to Southern California only through a circuitous routing that's not commonly used -- that energy goes to Reno and Idaho instead.

Outside-of-California coal plants that significantly and regularly contribute to Southern California's energy mix are Navajo (in Page, AZ) and Intermountain (in Delta, UT). These are Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP)'s share and get mixed in through them. There's even a dedicated HDVC line [1][2] between Intermountain and Victorville.

The coal for Navajo is mined in Kayenta, AZ, and the plant's effects are multifaceted. It came about as a compromise when dams affecting the Grand Canyon were cancelled, and the mine and plant create jobs and lease payments for the Navajo Nation, but it also pollutes land and is used to power cities far away.

The coal for Intermountain is mined in Utah, Colorado, or Wyoming, depending on market forces.

LADWP has set goals to switch off of coal in the coming years, including considering converting Intermountain to natgas. Navajo's prospects are not good -- they're under regulatory and economic pressure, and conversion to natgas is not viable due to the lack of pipelines to the area.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_27 [2] https://www.openstreetmap.org/relation/3392214

> Sure, let's have more coal from Nevada instead

I have always wished that anyone who complains about wind or solar destroying their view should be forced to live with a coal or nuclear plant in their backyard for 12 months, so they can get some perspective.

That, or severely reduce their electricity consumption, forever.

Wow.. when I thought NIMBYism in California couldn't get any worst.

NIMBYism in California has been at the level where one generation basically doesn't give a damn about the subsequent generations. This fits in with the pattern.

Sure, let's have more coal from Nevada instead.

There are no coal mines in Nevada. You might be thinking of Arizona or Wyoming.

They’ve ramped it up to NIMC.

What does the 'C' stand for? County? Country? City?


The step up from NIMBYs is BANANAs

Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything/Anyone.

For those questioning the objections and criticizing the reporting for not vetting them, a simple search found some interesting relevant info:


FWIW I own property in the Mojave near Joshua Tree National Park. I am fairly pro-solar, but can at least appreciate the need for a more thorough evaluation of how these large-scale installations will affect the environment. It seems prudent to me that the county put on the brakes for now until we have better answers.

It may turn out that these solar installations can actually have more positive effects than negative, though it might only be possible with additional steps like covering the ground throughout the area with something like a perforated tarp. I wouldn't be surprised if such a tarp could be used to trap moisture in the ground and grow strawberries or something between the panels through the perforations where water and crops may pass.

Right now my property is covered with millions of wild desert flowers. Many people think all deserts are just some barren sandy landscape devoid of life. I know I did before owning a piece of it. It's not the case, there's a lot of life and it's a fragile ecosystem. Today I was photographing dozens of honey bees and a few butterflies feasting on acres of flowers in the Mojave.

Edit: I uploaded some of today's photos to imgur for the HN crowd if interested https://imgur.com/a/blZbs5e

Wide open rural land, little environmental or people impact, some of the best consistent sun in the world

Do you live in this community? My guess is no. And that’s the crux of the issue, though the article buries the lede somewhat.

Right do you live in a community that loses mountains to coal mining? That loses the coast to sea level rise? That has a nuclear facility in their back yard? There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

I live near a nuke plant. It pollutes about as much as my BBQ grill. It's quiet, the birds like it, and the fishing in the adjacent lake is excellent. Some people don't like its shape but I'm used to it and the steam rising is kind of charming.

Thus begin the challenges of ramping up distributed low-density intermittent energy harvesting by a factor of 40x.

Destroying a virgin desert ecosystem with an industrial installation is not little environmental impact.

Lighting the atmosphere on fire is not a little environmental impact either. We have to choose to loose something to live a modern lifestyle.

In USA local authority is derived from the state, so ca legislature can wipe out the county laws with some small legislation. Ianal

Probably not a good precedent to set.

Neither is a blanket ban. A precedent of striking down blanket bans and tell them to instead actually set out criteria that would block the specific things that does not address their concerns would be quite good.

E.g. if their concern is the risk ruining views, then ban construction that ruins views, don't ban things you think may ruin views whether or not they actually do, while not banning a near infinite number of things that also might ruin views; if your concern is dust, then require plans and documentation that you're taking sufficient measures to prevent it, don't ban just some of the things that may or may not cause the problem while leaving the door wide open for other projects that would cause the same problem just because people aren't pursuing those other kind of projects right now.

[I keep fantasizing about "acceptance tests" for laws and regulations: Too often laws and regulations are set out based on totally untested hypotheses about their effects, but without any kind of process to review efficacy or side-effects, and with an inherent political cost to revisit an issue; imagine if all laws and regulations had to set out intended goals and define an objective set of criteria to measure if they meet the goals, and would automatically be suspended if they do not have the intended effects or have sufficiently large negative side-effects; it wouldn't stop bad laws, but it would at least document what the actual intended direct effects are]

I'm sure you can find experts in writing laws so that they're technically not a blanket ban, but it's still impossible to fulfill all requirements while still being profitable.

We set it all the time over here in Utah. Some heavy tourist cities wanted to ban plastic bags at grocery stores. The state swooped in and made it illegal to ban plastic bags in the entire state. The "free market" has to decide if we want them or not.

That's one of those ironic things that conservative state legislatures do. They're all for small government until a liberal city passes a law they don't like.

Sure it is. NIMBYs are totally out of control. The time is long past for intervention.

It's a great precedent to set. First solar then high density zoning.

Happens all the time, actually. It's called preemption.

I think it's a great precedent, when branches of governments abuse their authority a different power must step in.

More like a desperately needed precedent.

>[...] solar projects proposed along or near the highway would ruin the pristine desert landscapes [...]


It makes sense if the locals benefit from tourists driving down those roads to observe the scenery. A place without roads may be even more pristine, but it also might as well not exist because normal people can't go there.

I suppose a divider with solar panels in it that also provide shade to driving cars would be out of the question.

Lots of commenters ITT who have obviously never actually been to the California desert. Paving the California desert with solar panels would be no less of an environmental tragedy than the clear cutting of the giant redwoods or the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Can you explain why? I can see how it would be undesirable to locals, but clear cutting redwoods would release massive amounts of stored carbon, whereas solar panels in the desert would seem to do the opposite.

The desert isn't a blank sandscape. There's a whole ecosystem of desert plants and creatures, not to mention the solar panels killing migratory birds.

This gets to a conflict of values between different environmentalists - a lot of people are willing to accept local environmental damage in order to counter climate change.

The people willing to accept “local” environmental change are not local, are they? Let’s be honest, coastal liberals want to build solar in the desert so they can charge their Teslas with a clear conscience. The people actually living there resent this. It’s the same dynamic that’s been playing out for over a century between urban and rural CA as regards water.

Plenty of coastal wind farms going up. You put solar farms in the desert because that's where they make sense: minimal environmental impact compared to anywhere else they could go, and lots of uninterrupted sunlight.

At the end of the day someone gets the powerplant in their backyard.

And the defining characteristic of that decision is the social status of the location.

I'm not saying it wouldn't have any impact at all; just not sure about my parent's comment that it would be "no less of an environmental tragedy" than clear-cutting old growth forest.

Are all those creatures helped by climate change? What about the environmental devastation caused by coal mining and fossil fuel burning? Just putting up a bunch of panels is a lot lighter on the ecology of the area.

California deserts arent sand dune heavy. Instead it is shrubs with their own ecosystem.

> But they are fragile, and no amount of mitigation can counter the damage that industrial-scale renewable energy projects would cause

They can't possibly be serious.

How much damage could solar or wind even cause ?

A ton. I was involved in the successful opposition against a wind farm project in Canada that was proposed for just north of a major internationally protected migratory bird habitat[1]. Habitat destruction is just a big an environmental problem, and actually probably bigger, than climate change in North America. We are down to less than ten percent of native grasslands remaining in our continent which is the biggest slow-motion environmental disaster that doesn't get talked about much.

What's the point of renewable energy if not to help protect natural areas like the ones being proposed for development?


Actually a lot, especially at scale. Solar PV is not as bad but wind is a significant threat to hoary bats as a species and to large threatened birds like eagles, owls, etc. Yes cats kill 1000x more birds than current wind but they kill swallows and robins and stuff, not damned eagles.

Mining and fabricating the amount of low-density energy harvesters and storage systems needed to fill in the intermittency also requires dozens of times more materials, land, and waste than the major carbon-free competition (nuclear).

Will they accept nuclear reactors though?

If you're going to ban these, then offer a non-fossil-fuel alternative that could work.

Their only remaining nuclear generation station is being closed down early because people in California don't like it regardless of its reliable carbon-free energy [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diablo_Canyon_Power_Plant#Clos...

Weird, I thought that Wikipedia page used to cite the costs of retrofitting Diablo Canyon's cooling to move away from once through water, but I don't see it there anymore. The history of that page shows scars of manipulating the narrative, but I stil didn't find it. Here's a PDF from PG&E that puts the cost at $2.6B:


These days you can buy a lot of solar, wind, and storage for $2.6B, so I'm not sure that closing the reactor is merely "not liking" nuclear. At this point we get more carbon free energy from solar and storage for the same amount of money, so if one is concerned about carbon it makes more sense to chug it down and build newer cheaper infrastructure.

What they are talking about is what is used to condense the steam exiting the main turbine which is the thing that spins the generator. DC uses seawater to run through the condenser and then back out to the sea, warming the water about 20 degrees if I remember correctly. This is why you see most nuclear plants along the coast or lining the Great Lakes.

The only other methods I am aware of are the giant cooling towers people associate with nuclear plants or ponds (more like canals which snake back and forth, see Turkey Point in Florida) which allow the water to cool before reuse.

"The policy approved by the supervisors prohibits utility-oriented renewable energy projects — defined as projects that would mostly serve out-of-town utility customers, rather than local power needs"

Well they don't seem to be banned. And seemingly they would be in favour of renewables for their own use. So disconnect them from the grid, add renewables and battery storage, that would seem to please everyone?

Frankly,this level of selfishness is astounding to me. Me, me, me, only for me, I got mine so screw the rest.

Welcome to every single planning meeting in California politics. And also many other places too, but California enables absolutely tiny groups of people to delay any construction or change.

> ruin the pristine desert landscapes that make the area so attractive.

OK, so this is pretty much another incident of property value protection?

What's the useful life of modern solar panels? Will these solar farms have to be decommissioned or retrofit in the future, and will we have to deal with a bunch of toxic material disposal say 30 years from now? I guess it certainly seems like a no-brainer to build these things in deserts with consistent sunlight, but I'm just curious if there are externalities we're not thinking of yet because we haven't had to.

Everything has externalities, but imho carbon emitted today is way worse than a smallish amount of toxic waste in 30 years.

The worst case scenario for toxic waste is probably the Hanford Site, which is obviously awful but it's not exactly causing global climate catastrophe like carbon might.

When projects like these are planned, they consider the entire lifecycle of the project, including end of life.

People said the asme thing with Nuclear.

Just because they say they are doesn't mean they actually are.

When a solar facility is decommissioned you have a bunch of junk, much of which can be recycled. When a nuclear facility is decommissioned you have a bunch of radioactive nuclear waste.

Solar panels are, by weight, mostly(>90%) made up of glass and aluminium.

Also most of the environmental footprint of the panels comes from the production process, which requires high temperatures and solvents.

All in all it's not much of a problem.

From what I've read, solar panels slowly decrease to 80-85% of their rated output after about 20 years, then stop decreasing. Even 30 year old panels seem fine[0].

[0] https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/article/testing-a-thirt...

Are there externalities to coal and other fossil fuel extraction and consumption?

It's a fucking desert.

This thread opened my eyes a bit... I assumed most people understood desert !== a sterile sand landscape.

Here's a photo I snapped from my backyard just now. This is the Sonoran Desert in Phoenix, but much of the southwest is like this. Not exactly a dead ecosystem.


You sound like someone who has never even visited then. The "desert bloom" is one of the most unique and spectacular things you can see in California. It's actually coming up and it's a big source of tourism especially amongst Californians.

Here's an update on the upcoming desert bloom from a couple of days ago with a nice video included:


Aside from this the Anza-Borrego Desert(within the area in discussion here) has natural springs and oases, bighorn sheep which are endangered, there's also golden eagles, black-tailed jackrabbits, kit foxes, deer, falcons and dozens of different reptiles. I would highly recommend spending some time there before dismissing it as a "fucking desert."

I don't agree with the decision, either, but a desert is a biome that deserves respect like any other.

I hadnt heard this point of view yet. I never saw a desert as something worth preserving, quite the contrary actually. Afforestation projects to green deserts seem absolutely wonderful. Why do you think its a biome worth preserving? Its places hostile to life. Are there negative effects caused by a lack of deserts?

edit: In case anyone else wonders, there would be a negative effect, as deserts are net carbon sinks.

Deserts are often teeming with life. The term refers to rainfall, not population. There are plants and animals equally deserving of protection, and it is worth protecting for the same reason any other biome is. If you look for beauty and balance there you might find it.

Covering them with solar panels disrupts the environment and displaces it’s inhabitants.


> and it is worth protecting for the same reason any other biome is.

Other biomes are worth preserving as they keep this planet habitable. I thought deserts do quite the opposite.


> Even though the plant and animal species that exist in hot deserts are well-adapted to those environments, we know from studies that such organisms are treading a fine line over environmental tolerance; some are even at their limits, according to the IPCC (25).

>Both The Sahara and The Namib are extremely hot deserts and in recent years have experienced some of the hottest temperatures to date. Pakistan and Iran have also experienced record dry spells and high temperatures in the last decade. Even semi-arid desert climates are experiencing an increase in hot and dry spells, becoming more parched and experiencing wildfires in areas where scrub, brush and tree cover is more abundant.


>Evidence demonstrates that the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula alone show increased water vapor feedback, much higher sensitivity, and increased sensitivity in deserts to greenhouse gas emissions. Simply, deserts become hotter and drier during a warming climate with wider implications for the warming climate.

However I was not aware of this

>Many are not aware that deserts are a net carbon sink, providing some relief from the increase in greenhouse gases. This will be problematic while carbon emissions continue to increase, and world governments will need to do something about it in the future. The discovery was made when researching bacteria in the desert. Research suggests that bacteria located in massive aquifers beneath the sand and in the sands itself, are capturing carbon from the air. In theory, the aquifers could hold more than the entire global population of plant material at present at 20 billion metric tons (or 22 billion imperial/US tons) (33).

San Bernardino County is very different from the Sahara and Namib. Take a quick look at aerial images and this is clear.

Sure, the article I linked goes into detail with different desert biomes. Found the cold desert example in Iran especially interesting.

But my question was about deserts in general. The answer I was looking for was deserts being carbon sinks.

Deserts hve unique fauna and vegetation. That alone is a good reason. Also deserts regulate the climate of adjacent and far away regions. For example the Amazon jungle is feed by the Sahara desert [1]

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/nasa-satellite-reveals-...

There are a wide range of things that are considered deserts and organisms that live within them. They aren't just empty acres of sand. I'd recommend the Planet Earth episode about deserts to help gain a little appreciation without having to visit one.

They occur naturally and life has adapted to them. From a conservation standpoint that's enough reason for me to keep them around.

When I was a kid, my family moved to Phoenix. On the drive there, I thought the desert was an awful, brown, blasted wasteland. Later on, I went hiking and camping in the desert, and learned a lot about the desert flora and fauna. Gradually my viewpoint changed and I thought the desert was most beautiful.

I’m no wildlife expert, but aren’t there organisms that have evolved to thrive in deserts?

The desert can be a beautiful place. Look up Sedona or Antelope Valley in Arizona.

Yay! So many beautiful and fragile places will be saved now! People don't realize that our local deserts are "biodiversity hotspots" and there are thousands of species plants and animals relying on that desert to remain intact and in balance. Exactly like Amazon rain forests and our oceans, you can't just clearcut or poison them and expect everything to go along just fine. People may look at a dry lake and think "dead wasteland" because they don't understand that fairy shrimp and different plant seeds lie dormant in that soil for years until there is water, then they all explode into life, providing food and water for local critters as well as migrating birds, etc. Mother Nature did not make a single square foot of wasteland.

This is the type of decision-making the authors of the Green New Deal need to grapple with. E.g., the Green New Deal calls for high speed rail everywhere. But when you actually try to build HSR people in affected communities file lawsuits and force decisions that increase the cost, slow down trains and delay construction. For the Green New Deal to actually happen, the federal government would need to override local decision-making.

Lawmakers want their own share and haven't been given one.

Yeah it's like the developers don't even know how to lobby. They should take a lesson from e.g. Foxconn, who had everyone important in Wisconsin wrapped around their finger.

Wind I can see, towers can be kind of obnoxious. Solar? I hope the land owners sue for unjust taking of their farm rights to harvest solar without compensation.

Perhaps we should think about how to promote renewable power, e.g. new business model which gives direct benefit (may be short term) to the people.

Strange that such an industrial use isn't seen as benefitting the locals. Or at least not enough of those in power.

Lucerne dry lake isn’t right now. Isn’t Sen Feinstein D-CA financially involved in desert solar projects?

Wind power is routinely deployed in an environmentally irresponsible way. https://www.audubon.org/conservation/audubons-position-wind-...

California bleeds its lakes dry and sullies the landscape with weapons-grade sprawl. Environmentalists, look elsewhere. California is evidence that all principles cease to exist when faced with a modest cheque.

Oh so its Nuclear power for San Bernardino then :-)


And everything could cause cancer.

The amount of fuss over “may cause cancer” is excessive.

On the other hand RadiThor existed so clearly the other extreme also existed :)

Get Off My Land Dag Nabbit

Falmer Palmers American Cousin

So the beautiful desert landscapes can not be sullied with these solar panel eyesores.

Fair enough. We should just put the sustainable solar power that these same residents want access to on arable farm land instead?!?

That's a great idea. I suggest putting it on the arable farmland that supplies their communities. Let them figure out how to get crops from the desert.

"where existing solar projects are seen by many as eyesores that destroy desert ecosystems and fuel larger dust storms"

My intuition would suggest that renewable energy would take energy out of the system (wind power at least). Reducing dust storms.

So are they correct? Is it climate change being attributed to the cure?

I gave this a little bit of thought. I agree with the decision, but not at all for the reason that San Bernardino County cites.

We have (and California/Western States especially) drastically reduced per capita water consumption over the past few decades. Almost nobody has noticed.

This same approach needs to happen with electricity and other forms of energy. We shouldn't build any net new large-scale generation facilities (replacements are ok). To really make a difference, we must consume less. Consuming the same or more is no longer an option, even if it renewable or carbon-free.


No, generating less solar and wind will mean burning more natural gas and coal. Fossil fuels don’t get charged for their pollution externalities so their price on the energy market is artificially low, and demand artificially high.

Also, you just claimed that consuming more energy is not an option with making any arguments to support that claim. In fact, consuming more energy is an option every household has, and if we ban solar and wind then that energy will come from fossil fuels.

We could also split more atoms, which is carbon free and has really small impact in terms of land, mining, carbon, death, pollution, etc.

If it is completely sustainable, why not? There is no need to force uncomfortable, or what amounts to irrelevant, lifestyle changes on anyone if they can live thus without harm. We have the technological capacities to live well without harming the environment, we just choose, or at least have chosen, not to implement them.

On the practical level, we never consume anything, just change its state. So even the most energetic human activity can quite readily be a net neutral activity as long as it is planned with a cyclical reuse in mind.

I see no virtue in reduce if recycle is working well. They are both just practical means to an end. So we should go all in on sustainable systems since they are far, far easier to build than a new psychology and some level of hardship for all society, throughout the entire world - even if that hardship is small.

It doesn’t really matter how much electricity you consume if it’s coming from the sun. 1J of energy is 1J of energy. If the sun just hits the desert floor, it’ll heat up the earth immediately. If you collect the energy and convert (some of) it to electricity, whatever’s converted successfully won’t heat up the planet immediately, but it’ll end up back in the form of heat eventually.

There’s really no benefit to decreasing consumption of electricity. There’s no difference between decreasing demand by 1W and increasing solar output by 1W.

> There’s really no benefit to decreasing consumption of electricity. There’s no difference between decreasing demand by 1W and increasing solar output by 1W.

This ignores the sunlight that reflects back into space, and if conversion into electricity and slow return to heat actually increases the amount of energy that the planet can effectively absorb.

At some level, it's just a question of if the planet would heat up by painting the deserts black -- and I suspect that the answer is "yes".

Interesting point. I’m not sure there’s really any way I can estimate the difference there.

> 1J of energy is 1J of energy. If the sun just hits the desert floor, it’ll heat up the earth immediately. If you collect the energy and convert (some of) it to electricity, whatever’s converted successfully won’t heat up the planet immediately, but it’ll end up back in the form of heat eventually.

This is also true for water. I'm not sure exactly what you're saying.

I’m not seeing how water is relevant here. OP seems to think decreasing demand is better than increasing supply. I’m not convinced that it is, though another reply comparing it to painting deserts back does raise a fairly good point.

What is your 1W of electricity going to do though? It going to power something, lets say a phone, so the phone needs building in a factory, with materials mined and pumped from the ground.

Electricity use implies 'stuff'. Our production of 'stuff' is nowhere near being environmentally sound.

So 1W hitting the desert floor is nothing like 1W hitting a solar panel.

If I have my house in the middle of nowhere and I put solar on my roof that more than covers my power usage. So much that I can run air con 24/7. Even when not home. This is obviously over consumption but I have an abundance of energy raining down on my roof. What difference does it make that I run my air con all the time when that energy was already wasted heating my roof.

If it’s renewable and carbon-neutral, why isn’t it an option to consume more?

I guess an argument could be that the distribution of electricity still costs money. For example, if households use more electric power, we can either increase the electric current or the voltage. For the former we may have to replace transmission lines to be thicker; for the latter we may have to reconfigure or perhaps rebuild the local transformers. In either case, there are other costs involved that do not involve the cost of electricity itself.

There’s nothing wrong with increased costs per se. If people are willing to pay it, let them! The problem is when there are substantial externalities not reflected in the price, as is the case with electricity sourced from fossil fuel.

> reduced per capita water consumption

Immigration though, and also electric cars etc will need more energy.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact