Environmental enthusiasts will be pleased to know that solar energy is growing in the west, but at what cost? The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is set to power the state of California soon this year. The system consists of thousands of illuminating mirrors that pervade the desert landscape. The mirrors reflect heat from the sun into two towers. On top of the towers lie water pipes. The water stored in the pipes is cooked into steam by the sun’s heat which in turn, is converted into electricity. Although environmentalist are excited about the prospects of solar energy, solar panels alone are not always environmentally friendly.
As of right now, exactly 232 solar panels are in construction, acquiring permits or under testing within the United States. Many of the panels under construction are located in the Southwest and California. This is primarily because of the lack of open land available in eastern lands. Yet the West is a beacon of open terrain basking in a glow of sunlight. It should therefore be unsurprising that solar energy is growing in the west.
Yet open land is not necessarily a prerequisite in order to have sufficient solar energy. Solar energy can be planted on the smallest of scales, such as watches. Due to the lack of open land in the east, solar developers are looking to seed smaller solar programs in close proximity to cities. As a result, environmental groups are putting pressure an regulators to use landfills and industrial zones instead of disrupting the environment of the desert.
The desert tends to be viewed as an ocean of sand as far as the eye can see that is completely devoid of life; however, life is a remarkable phenomena that can adapt to the most hostile of terrains. As such, the desert is home to a whole host of species including tortoises, birds, lizards among other exotic creatures. Due to this, the California Energy Commission denied a permit to another Bright Source project on the grounds that the heat emitted by the towers and mirrors could hurt birds in the surrounding region.
Destruction of the environment is not without its own financial costs. Before constructing the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System, few tortoises were thought to populate the terrain. However, post-construction revealed this to be anything but the case. Ivanpah has since spent approximately $56 million in order to build fences around the panels and raise the tortoises already in the region. Exactly 55 tortoises have been born inside Ivanpah’s pen. In order to mitigate the impact the solar panel has on the environmental surroundings, Ivanpah invested an additional $11.4 million on 7,000 acres of land in order to provide the tortoises with a sustainable habitat.
Ivanpah has been a technological hallmark in a region largely dominated by rock. The 173,500 mirrors that fill the desert landscape are dictated by highly sophisticated computers to follow the path of the sun in the summer sky. Although many are pleased that solar energy is growing in the west, debate continues to wage on finding a balance between technology that powers the future and its impact on the immediate environment.
By Nathan Cranford