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U.S. approves solar project in California desert (reuters.com)
76 points by awb 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments



What a peculiar caption on the image:

> Arrays of photovoltaic solar panels are seen at the Tenaska Imperial Solar Energy Center South as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in this aerial photo

There does not seem to a single person in the image and I don't think solar panels can catch COVID. How is the spread of COVID continuing "in this aerial photo" haha.


It’s like saying “in bed” after reading any fortune cookie

“As the spread of the coronavirus disease continues”, good for any sentence!


The news biz has its own version of SEO, keyed mainly off of article titles but also to a lesser extent off of image titles. Both of those are selected by the editor, not the reporter. The main difference is that they aren't optimizing for search engines.

There were tons of cases of this weird "article/photo title is trying way too hard to spin this story while the text is pretty neutral and unbiased" during election season.

It also shows up in the tendency to insert the prefix "Commentary:" in the title of any article noting any negative facts about a certain particular country. The WSJ is particularly hilarious in this respect.


The caption is search spam. SEO is a thing for stock art.


The picture was taken and captioned last March: https://www.reuters.com/search/pictures?blob=Tenaska+Imperia...

This article just uses it without any changes.

The caption would have been somewhat less strange at that point (but still hard to contextualize).

Edit: Oops, the earliest date is June 2020. Doesn't really change the explanation any though.


Perhaps there are 5G radios in the vicinity.


I guess it was the AI built on Rust and hosted on Lambda that wrote this caption


It looks like my latest Factorio biuld is bleeding into this reality again.


You're playing with a COVID mod for Factorio? :O

... that sounds pretty cool actually, though I'm not sure how it would work. The main character of the game is pretty good at social distancing already.


Where are the damn drones that install them onto my roof?!


Hopefully someone has some spare paracetamol tablets


Gaming SEO maybe?


Written by AI?


[flagged]


With a side dish of "appeasing the algorithmic overlords".


Meanwhile Ohio has about 7GW/71,000 acres of solar projects in the application, construction or operational state with the Ohio Power Siting board.

PDF warning - https://opsb.ohio.gov/wps/wcm/connect/gov/b504e379-a4ba-49e4...


Of which only one site is operational and two are in construction. Given the amount of coal power due to be shutdown in Ohio in the next few years, it will be important to have these projects up and running quickly.

To put it into context, the approved solar projects (not yet operational or under construction) is ~ 2200 MW of power covering 23,000 acres. There are two major coal plants outside of Cincinnati that are due to be shutdown by 2027. Combined, they produce 2300 MW by themselves [1]. And that is just those two plants.

It is nice to see the shift, but we still have a way to go.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_power_stations_in_Ohio


Given the stakes, timelines and all of the possibilities for these projects to get sidelined or stalled, I’m surprised the development firms involved with these projects have done almost nothing to appeal to individuals that will be affected by them.


Can you explain what might happen if the solar projects aren't up and running in time?

Delays in constructing power plants are pretty common, but I'm not sure what the practical consequences are.


23,000 acres is 93km^2


I got a 404


Thanks for the heads up, i think i fixed it.


Do I have this right: 90,000 homes each pay $1400 [1] in electricity, so $550M is paid back in 4.3 years. Makes the economics look pretty good, assuming distribution costs are not much higher than 50%

[1] https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=46276


If generation is 50% of the bill then ~$700 per home per year, so probably closer to 10-15 years payoff. Still a great deal IMHO. I'm thinking about a ground-mount system in Ohio, payoff in ~15y, I was pretty shocked to see how little solar there was between Vegas and San Diego (aside from the Ivanpah spectacle lol)


Does this already include maintenance, repair and replacement?


The solar projects around me have a 30 year budget that includes expected costs for all of that. The aggregate of those costs is the big number that floats around. Not sure if that's the case with this project.


I find that most of these payoff periods are generous on one side, but lax on the other. For example, does the payoff calculator include the opportunity costs? I doubt it, because it would likely be impossible to ever achieve break even.


Payoff time calculations shouldn't include opportunity costs. Calculating opportunity cost would require knowing about every other possible project.

The right procedure is to calculate payoff periods for each project separately. Then, when deciding which projects to fund, you choose them starting with the shortest payoff times until your budget is used up.


Opportunity cost is simple. It’s a calculation of what your money could have been doing if you put it to use doing something else. The easiest to estimate is the market opportunity cost.

If you spend $10,000 on a solar installation that is $10,000 you could have put in the market. After 15 years you saved $10,000 in electricity, and you’re supposedly profiting. However, that $10,000 investment would have grown to $24,000 at a modest 6%. So you’re actually still in the red, and you’ll likely never catch up and break even.

If you took out a loan it’s the opportunity cost on the payments. There is actually a theoretical break even here, but it’s not 15 years.

If you’re doing it for some altruistic reasons then it doesn’t matter. But if you’re making a payback calculation, you should do it properly. Opportunity cost is a real thing.


The opportunity cost for what? Half the reason why this particular project exists is that Biden has realized that the best way to bring money into the hands of people is by giving them a job that is useful to society.

As it is right now there is enough funding for every conceivable project, assuming the project is profitable (pays debts back) the only real limits are physical resources and unemployed workers and running out of unemployed workers is a policy goal. If we hit real limits, then interest rates will go up and lenders will demand greater returns, which may mean that a solar project like this may not get started and people start seeking out more productive ideas. However, the most important thing is that investments pay their debts back.


The opportunity cost for the cash you had to put down to install a solar array. Or the opportunity cost of the interest payments you’re making on a loan.

For me 90,000 homes sound like not very useful and potentially misleading number. What would be useful to know: peak power output (MW), annual generation (GW·h) if the grid will accept energy whenever it is available, and annual generation expectation given typical energy demand (which will be lower given that midday is likely not a peak hour).


It’s slightly more complex than that I think, the development doesn’t appear to include any sort of energy storage for overnight workloads.


FTA

> The project will include a battery storage system


I don't think that's for overnight storage, though. More for shifting into the evening peak.


I'm in this area pretty often due to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, Ca. There is already quite a bit of solar west of Blythe.


I want to be excited by this but 500 million dollars to create 10 jobs doesn’t sound efficient. Maybe there’s more to this than just job creation?


Ah yes 90,000 homes or 0.065% of total homes in the US. So why is this news?


Why does the federal government even need to approve a new power plant, solar or otherwise ? As long as it is done to code, legalize building!

I see that they provided 800ha of federal land, that may be why.


The project "will be sited on 2,000 acres of federal land": you need owner's approval if you want to do something on his piece of land...


Solar farms are an ecological disaster, deserts are complex ecosystems full of life.


> Deserts are complex ecosystems full of life

They are the least full of life of usual ecosystems, so if you want to minimize harm when building large infrastructure, they're the logical place to put the infrastructure.

OTOH, you may be interested by the fact that nuclear plants have the best energy density per occupied land surface, if you care about reducing ecosystem impact. That allows minimizing used land.


> They are the least full of life of usual ecosystems, so if you want to minimize harm when building large infrastructure, they're the logical place to put the infrastructure.

I don't think that necessarily follows — desert ecosystems are often relatively fragile. Small changes to conditions can have a disproportionate, negative effect on the plants and animals that live there. (Or a positive effect on some species, which often means a negative effect on others — i.e. things thrown out of balance.)


That is simply not true. Large destruction of natural ecosystems is a disaster for the planet we need to use less resources not more.


You're right. We should reduce consumption, the global population, and do quite a few radical changes to our culture _IF_ the end goal is to minimize ecological damage.

Thing is, most people are less concerned with the environment and more concerned about things like accumulation of wealth, social status, and in many places even things like clean water, access to healthcare and food on the table. If you want to convince all those people to prioritize the environment over everything else, then you better have some kind of magical way of convincing people to listen and act here and now. "Bad stuff will happen in X years" simply isn't relevant enough for people to care.

If you don't have one, then all we can hope for is to limit the damage in a way that is acceptable to as many as possible, and hope that's enough.


>nuclear plants have the best energy density per occupied land surface, if you care about reducing ecosystem impact. That allows minimizing used land.

and when it blows it naturally provides for a huge blossoming ecosystem refuge guaranteed to be free of development for the centuries to come like the Chernobyl zone.

Edit in response to the comment below: the false dichotomy. Basically the same old Big Energy tries to blackmail our civilization into nuclear using the threat of coal. No pasaran.


Why is nuclear energy so bad though? 99 percent of the plants dont blow. The waste fuel is miniscule in size and easy to contain compared amd fossil fuel, which cant be contained.

Nuclear seems like a perfect solution to immediately reduce climate impact while we transition to proper renewables.

It seems like the semi localized environmental damage of an occasional nuclear accident is far less bad than the constant global damage of carbon.


> Why is nuclear energy so bad though? 99 percent of the plants dont blow.

It's a better than 99%, but only slightly. Over 440 active reactors[1], we're at ~0.68% at INES [1] level 6. That is in a period of exceptional social stability though. We've arguably escaped some rather nasty accidents in the disintegrating USSR. One could also speculate that accidents might be more likely to happen near the end of the reactor's economic life, which for many reactors we haven't seen yet.

> The waste fuel is miniscule in size and easy to contain compared amd fossil fuel, which cant be contained.

It isn't easy to contain for the entire containment period. Humanity doesn't even have a solution for that yet.

You're also neglecting other risks, like nuclear proliferation.

> Nuclear seems like a perfect solution to immediately reduce climate impact while we transition to proper renewables.

The median construction time for a nuclear reactor was 119 months in 2019.[2] It's not a fast transitional technology to renewables. It also doesn't complement renewables very well. There's its limited scaling up and down. There's also the inherent big size of the projects and the management and lobbying hydrocephalus that entials.

> It seems like the semi localized environmental damage of an occasional nuclear accident is far less bad than the constant global damage of carbon.

Maybe.

What's certain is deploying renewables is certainly cheaper, easier, faster and safer than nuclear for at least 80% of the world's electric energy production right now. Chances are that with the incredibly quick development of storage technology, that number will soon get much closer to 100%.

Another option would be to convince Americans, Canadians and Scandinavians to limit their electricity consumption patterns to that of the average western European.[3]

[0] https://www.statista.com/statistics/267158/number-of-nuclear...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Nuclear_Event_Sc...

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/712841/median-constructi...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electrici...


> lobbying hydrocephalus

Autocorrupt or a novel biting put-down?


Put-down. Thank you for the adjectives "novel" and "biting". I'm flattered :-)


The waste fuel is a small component. The overall waste stream from a reactor of everything that's too contaminated to reuse normally is larger.

Ironically nuclear accidents are not too bad for the natural environment compared to, say, petrochemical accidents - it's humans they are really bad for with their array of bioaccumulative poisons.


I used to think along the same lines until someone mentioned that we don't need nuclear energy to make large swaths of land uninhabitable. In fact, coal is the answer if you want to create large areas free of humans for a long time.

Unlike nuclear, you don't even have to wait for a disaster to happen. It just does it normally.


Almost every human activity is an ecological disaster. You need to provide less disastrous alternatives, ideally some that cost a comparable amount of money to implement.


Probably less of a disaster than coal but it is good to acknowledge the environmental impacts of solar, I lot of people ignore them.


How do they impact deserts? Are there some species that can only thrive in the searing sun?

Plus, to my untrained eye, what else, except for bacteria (and even that, in limited amounts) thrives in desert conditions?

Everything I know about biology tells me that deserts are relatively bereft of life compared to temperate or tropical climates.

Also, what alternative is less harmful to life, in general?


It's not like the area is straight up (coarse and rough and irritating) sand. Tortoises, foxes, lizards, snakes, rodents, bats, birds, etc.

Flora wise, it's going to be predominantly desert scrub bush and to a lesser degree, microphyll woodland. Even in the article photo, you can see desert scrub in the undeveloped portions.

I think environmentalists that care about the desert would much prefer solar development to occur on already disturbed land.


> would much prefer solar development to occur on already disturbed land.

Where? "Disturbed" land is taken.


In fairness, plenty of rooftops still don’t have PV on them.

We never did manage to get solar roadways strong enough to use and cheap enough to be economical; but I wonder, could we do better with solar between the rails of railway lines? Or high enough above them to enclose them and their trains?


Solar roadways were always a terrible idea. Solar railways would have the same problem.

Putting solar above parking lots and parking decks is a much more viable way to use vehicle-related infrastructure for solar.

Using desert habitats are probably superior since we are in a climate emergency and need to build as much solar and wind as possible as fast as possible. Ground solar is cheaper than elevated solar as I understand it.


> Solar roadways were always a terrible idea. Solar railways would have the same problem.

As I understand it, the problem was it was too expensive to make it sufficiently damage resistant, that damage being continuous wear from all the traffic.

Just outside my window, there is a tram line. Grass grows in the spaces between the rails. I suspect you could put normal panels in those gaps where grass currently grows, and most of the panels would last just as long there as they would on a rooftop.


Hmm. And how much square footage do you estimate that would cover? How would you run electrical lines by and through the constantly moving (expansion/contraction, as well as vehicle weight) heavy steel elements? How would you deal with the constant maintenance that must be done on everything from light rail to heavy cargo lines? How would you make sure all your panels weren’t destroyed in one pass by a drug connector?

Roads are at least as bad, and near as I can tell, there is literally no road surface (from hardened steel to concrete to glass to asphalt!) that won’t get potholes and other damage decently quickly.

And they don’t have any sensitive electrical connections or need clear sunlight to do anything useful.


> Hmm. And how much square footage do you estimate that would cover?

USA has 257,722 km of 1,435 mm gauge track, so… about 3.9 billion square feet there.

The EU is a bit less, but similar (208,211 km).

Worldwide is 1,370,782 km, various gauges. Roughly 21 billion square feet?

Should be good for a combined nameplate capacity around 393 GW.

> How would you run electrical lines by and through the constantly moving (expansion/contraction, as well as vehicle weight) heavy steel elements?

The trains and trams around here are electrically powered, so that’s already solved technically, and in cases like mine the solution has already been implemented.

I have no idea how the other stuff might influence costs.


None of your numbers line up. You’re using US track numbers, but essentially zero US track is electrified. The little bit that is electrified is often underground and all of it is high voltage and won’t work with solar like that.

Next to said tracks though are millions of acres of land that wouldn’t have all the maintenance issues and would actually work?

It’s a similar issue with solar roadways - it’s a really impractical place to put solar; not even close to worth it maintenance wise or efficiency - and you pretty much always have better options literally 10 ft away.


> None of your numbers line up. You’re using US track numbers, but essentially zero US track is electrified.

Doesn’t matter. The engineering solution is known (as I type I am literally looking at overhead power cables above the street, powering one of Berlin’s tram lines). Use that class of existing solutions rather than asking me to reinvent it badly.

> Next to said tracks though are millions of acres of land that wouldn’t have all the maintenance issues and would actually work?

Great, so use that too, if you like. But the ask I was responding to was the idea we should use land which is already in an unnatural state.


That’s literally not how any of that works at all.

Taken as in active use or as in the hands of private land owners? Not uniformly so, in either case.

As someone else has mentioned, within the built environment would be at the top end. As far as solar power plants go, geographically altered, old agricultural, and wildfire affected lands.


Yes, there are some species that require desert conditions in order to live. They have adapted to this particular harsh environment and the conditions in these places help keep out competition for the scarce available resources. You really should do some basic research or at least watch an Attenborough documentary because "everything you know about biology" is apparently quite limited. Yes, deserts have less life and far less obvious signs of it given the lack of resources, but that also means that the web of life between the various organisms is far more fragile and takes a lot longer to recover from any injury or intrusion.

A far better place to put solar panels are in places where we know the impact of people and machines will be barely noticed and where life will spring back quite quickly. Put them in the middle of farmland. We have far more arable land than we need to be using, taking it out of production for a decade or two will be good for the soil, and it will spring back to life within days of the construction machinery leaving.


> A far better place to put solar panels are in places where we know the impact of people and machines will be barely noticed and where life will spring back quite quickly. Put them in the middle of farmland. We have far more arable land than we need to be using, taking it out of production for a decade or two will be good for the soil, and it will spring back to life within days of the construction machinery leaving.

"We need to be using" from a metric you just conjured, or we are actually using?


Using the US as an example, too much land is used for cereal grains like corn and wheat, to the point where it has become politically necessary to subsidize worthless and inefficient usages like ethanol just to get rid of the surplus. Ergo, I am making the assertion that if the US can afford to waste arable farmland growing corn that then needs to heavily subsidized to turn into ethanol and HFCS this arable land is being wasted and could be better served as space for solar panels.

Taking land like this out of production will serve the purpose of supporting crop prices (limiting the political fallout of such a move) and it is well-established that modern farm practices have done significant damage to topsoil and that leaving land fallow or planting gaps between panels with prairie grasses will help build back some of the topsoil and soil nutrients.

Do you have a counter-argument to refute my assertion?


Food supply is a strategic priority for any country, and a bit of surplus is to be expected as you want such important things to have a slight slack built into them and not break under stress.

Not everything is done in the name of 110% efficiency.


Deserts have been growing though, particularly the Sahara due to human activities like farming and grazing animals. So perhaps there’s opportunities to reduce deserification by combining solar and agriculture, and also provide power to poor regions.

According to this link there is promising benefits:

https://cleantechnica.com/2019/09/09/combining-solar-farming...


The California desert is so different though - there is so much life everywhere. Spending nights camping out there, you just see so much.

There are these really cute rat-looking things that eat bark and make a crazy scratching sound while you’re trying to sleep. There’s a huge variety of birds, some of which are brutal — they’ll pick up those rats and throw them at a cactus to impale them so they can be eaten more easily. Then there’s mice, ants, coyotes (woke up in the middle of the night to a big pack running by), tons of crazy plants. There’s even some spots with water & real oasis feeling - palm trees, frogs, insects, and running water - right in between some cliffs, tucked away, with no people around as far as you can see.

I always thought the desert was just mostly sand and occasional cactus, but have been proven SO wrong after spending lots of time there.


You raise a good question. I wonder, just a thought experiment, if providing shade in a desert might create refuge for plants that can't survive directly in the desert sun...


Those would be different plants than the ones already living there (ones that can survive in direct sunlight). The usual aim is to preserve the full variety of the world's ecosystems, and encouraging or allowing non-native species into a desert works against that.


There's a brief overview of the flora and fauna in this desert here [1], and much more detail on the "See also" pages.

In particular, note the endemic flora — these species live _only_ in this desert.

I don't know what impact this development will have, so I won't comment on that.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_Desert#Flora_and_faun...


Going to guess limited impact. The Colarado Desert is 7 million acres. This project will use 2000 acres. That's 0.02%.




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