Monday, May 06, 2013

Sunbelt State Republicans In A Bind Over Solar Power


As we saw yesterday, the American conservative movement is a captive of-- and virtually inextricable from-- the self-sustaining, cash-soaked universe of Big Oil and Gas. Conservative politicians' careers have been financed by Big Oil and they will fight to the death for their corporate masters. Unfortunately, the death their fighting for is our death, our country's and our planet's death. As Bill McKibben mentioned in his sermon, tiny Bavaria in southern Germany (27,239 square miles-- smaller than South Carolina) now more solar panels functioning to create cheap, clean electricity than the entire United States (3.794 million square miles). Right-wing reactionaries and hatemongers accept that shilling for Big Oil is part of their job. When I woke up yesterday reactionary sociopath Bryan Fischer had just gratuitously tweeted:

Meanwhile, Juan Cole was pointing out that the rest of the world is sensibly forging ahead on the back of the incredibly shrinking cost of solar energy. Because the pace of technological innovation in the solar field has so rapidly accelerated, it is now as inexpensive to build a solar plant as a gas or coal one and in the Southwest solar is at grid parity, as it is in several European countries that have no oil, like Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal.
By 2015, solar panels should have fallen to 42 cents per watt. says that the best Chinese solar panels fell in cost by 50% between 2009 and 2012. That incredible achievement is what has driven so many solar companies bankrupt– if you have the older technology, your panels are suddenly expensive and you can’t compete. It is like no one wants a 4 year old computer. Conservatives shed no tears when better computers drive slower ones out of the market, but point to solar companies’ shake-out as somehow bad or unnatural. No wonder US solar installations jumped 76% in 2012. The reductions in cost over the next two years are expected to continue, at a slowing but still impressive 30% rate.
In the last election, the part of the Antelope Valley in CA-25, voted, for the first time, against the virulently anti-environmental Republican incumbent, Buck McKeon, and for environmental-friendly opponent, Lee Rogers. Had the rest of the district voted the way Antelope Valley did, McKeon would have lost and Rogers would be the congressman now. Both the congressmen from the Antelope Valley. McKeon and Kevin McCarthy, have taken considerable legalistic bribes from Big Oil and Gas, McCarthy $420,650 and McKeon $32,200 and now both are in an awkward situation back home. As Cole reports. the biggest solar plant in the world, the 579 megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Project is being built straddling their two districts. "It will provide electricity to 400,000 homes in the state (roughly 2 million people), and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 775,000 tons a year." McKeon and McCarthy, of course, both want to be seen leading the parade-- at least back home. Both their voting records in Washington are horrifically anti-environmental and pro-Big Oil. McCarthy's career-long ProgressivePunch score on crucial votes involving air pollution, biohazards, clean water, global warming, and renewable energy is a ZERO. McKeon's overall record on the environment is nearly as hideous, 3.68 (out of 100). McKeon's votes in favor of renewable energy have all been tied up in pork and kickbacks he can be on the receiving end of.
Important new research also shows that hybrid plants that have both solar panels and wind turbines dramatically increase efficiency and help with integration into the electrical grid. Earlier concerns that the turbines would cast shadows and so detract from the efficiency of the solar panels appear to have been overblown. Because in most places in the US there is more sun in the summer and more wind in the winter, a combined plant keeps the electricity feeding into the grid at a more constant rate all year round, which is more desirable than big spikes and fall-offs.

That Germany, then China, then the US are the world’s largest solar markets is no surprise. But that number 17 Japan will increase its solar installations by 120% in 2013 and so may be the second hottest solar market, just after China, this year, would mark a big change. Japan may well have 5 gigawatts of solar installed by the end of this year, even though the relatively new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is no particular friend of the renewables. In my own view, if Japan made the right governmental and private investments, it could overtake China in the solar field and reverse its long post-bubble stagnation.

ABB has been commissioned a large solar electricity generating plant on the edge of the Kalahari Desert near Cape Town, South Africa. It will supply the electricity needs of around 40,000 persons and reduce annual emissions by 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide. South Africa emits 500 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, and is third in the world for per capita emissions. (Still, it only emits a 10th as much over-all as the US). But they just need a thousand more plants like the Kalahari one, and voila! South Africa is also imposing a carbon tax, which will hurry things along. (At the moment, South Africa is far too dependent on dirty coal plants, which not only fuel climate change but also spew deadly toxins such as mercury into the atmosphere, whence it goes into human beings.

Because of South African and Israeli demand in particular, demand for solar panels in the Middle East and Africa has risen over 600% during the past year. Saudi Arabia’s announced plans to save its petroleum for export by going solar at home will add a great deal to regional demand if it sticks to those plans. (In most countries, petroleum isn’t used much for electricity generation as opposed to transportation, but in oil states such as Saudi Arabia it often is used in power plants; but that cuts down on foreign exchange earnings.)

The two Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan are emerging as the solar giants in India, with each having now passed half a gigawatt in solar electricity generation capacity. The two account for some 88% of all of India’s solar power. But Rajasthan may soon outstrip Gujarat, given the state’s solar-friendly commitments, its ample amounts of scorching sunlight, and its vast deserts.

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At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This conundrum occurs in Florida as well. One of the most popular & demanded programs was one where the state offered rebates for the installation of solar panels for both businesses and residences. At one point the line for reimbursement was a year long. People LOVED this program. P.S. The stimulus helped to fund this program when the state flopped due to the real estate market

At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part 1 - I sense that you are assuming that digging up the desert for solar energy is a good thing. Think about the comment first made in the article about how Bavaria has more solar panels than all of the United States. Bavaria did not achieve their success by digging hundreds of thousands of acres of little-impacted or pristine desert lands that are home to endangered and threatened species, nor created a huge air quality problem with all the dust generated. Now it is not just wildlife and desert ecosystems that suffer. Large-scale solar development is planned for Imperial County - the county that has the highest child asthma rate in the United States. The dust, and with it residues of pesticides from abandoned farm land converted to solar fields, will become airborne.

Subsequent impacts from disturbed desert soils will be ongoing dust storms because not vegetation or cyanobacterial soil crust will recover only slowly to stabilize the ground surface. In semi-desert eastern San Luis Obispo County recently, so many workers at two solar installation were getting sick from valley fever that they had to stop construction. Valley fever is caused by a fungus that enters people's lungs as dust inhalation. When soil is disturbed during construction, the dust aerosols in the southern San Joaquin Valley have lots of valley fever spores to spread.

We need to ask why we are doing energy sprawl. Well, follow the money. Who is getting rich from all of these "renewable energy developments." Public utility corporations such as San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, or energy purveyors like BP (our fave from the Gulf Coast).

At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part 2 - Dick Cheney selected the Bureau of Land Management to bear the brunt of "renewable energy sprawl." Yes, it is a convenient delusion to assume that deserts are worthless environments. The California Energy Commission certainly thinks so. For anyone who knows the desert and what it can teach us, this loss is saddening. The CEC and the Department of the Interior think that it is a good idea to dedicate hundreds of thousands of acres of largely, undisturbed desert along the I-10 corridor in Riverside County, CA, from Desert Center to Blythe to what are called "utility-scale solar installations." These is no utility for consumers, no this is about utility companies - corporations.

Jobs. What jobs? Except for construction jobs, large solar installations create maybe 10 permanent job. There are no manufacturing jobs created because we import panels from China. Quality control? Many of the semiconductor material use toxic metalloids + rare earths like cadmium telluride. Under harsh desert conditions, material wear of panels may cause breaks. We don't know how much potentially toxic material we are introducing into the desert environment. We don't know the risks of what we are doing with extensive (read "sprawl") large-scale development.

The Bavarian/German model is quite different from the US renewable energy development model. Remember, Germany is not a sunny country like the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Yet, every available space in urban areas is considered eligible for use as a surface from which to generate solar energy. They don't have the land to lay waste to.

We could be doing the same thing in the LA / San Diego / Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan areas. But we don't. We chose to despoil the desert because utility companies can make a big bucks. In Germany, energy production is not privatized. Additional desert is ruined too because you need transmission line corridors to run from our utility-scale facilities to the LA Basin or San Diego. Lots of energy gets lost in transmission. If your energy distributor is close to your energy source there is less space taken up with unsightly above-ground transmission lines and less energy lost in transmission.

You may want the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan at to see what the future Mojave and Sonoran deserts in California may be looking like in the future at To get a glimpse of the national "vision" of solar energy, take a look at document known as the Solar PEIS at


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