June 1, 2009 (San Diego’s East County)--The Desert Protective Council has established guidelines for solar energy installations. Policy makers and solar developers are encouraged to follow five principles for developing renewable energy to protect the environment from potential damage by massive solar farms. The DPC also suggests contacting Congressional officials to ask them to embrace the following “Solar Done Right” principles.
(Editor’s note: You can find contact information for your Congressional representatives in East County Magazine’s Citizens Action Center button at the top of our website.)
“Solar Done Right” Principles recommended by the DPC:
1. Focus On Efficiency
Before installing solar panels on your roof, a good installer will first plug all the “energy leaks” in your home. The same should be true with planning for our renewable energy needs. Our nation could do much to combat global warming simply by implementing California’s energy efficiency requirements nationwide. Home weatherization and other energy efficiency programs can provide an immediate, locally-based economic stimulus, unlike large-scale projects that take years to permit and build.
2. Generate Locally
Rooftop solar (or building-integrated solar) has many advantages over centralized solar power plants located in remote areas. Distributed solar:
• produces electricity right where it is needed, meaning no energy is lost through long-distance transmission
• produces electricity when energy use is at its peak
• provides greater security from natural disasters and terrorist attack than centralized systems
• provides a local, “shovel-ready” economic stimulus - installation can start right now, without the long permitting delays of large projects
• encourages greater conservation as solar panel owners seek to put electricity back onto the grid
• can provide a profit for homeowners and small businesses, if government will enact the right policies
Learn more about photovoltaic solar power from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
3. Share The Profits
Germany and over 40 other countries are outpacing the U.S. in solar installations through Feed-In Tariffs, or FITs. This policy has been wildly successful because it pays a profitable rate to homeowners and businesses for every kilowatt their solar arrays produce. This profit motive is the best incentive available to drive large-scale adoption of rooftop solar. In the U.S., the town of Gainesville, FL, is leading the way, with a FIT program enacted in February. Learn more about FITs from the Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy.
A second successful policy has been implemented in Palm Desert, CA, and other California cities. This loan program allows homeowners to take out a 20-year loan paid through their property tax bill. If the house is sold, the loan stays with the property. Because of the 20-year payoff schedule, monthly payments are lower than with other loans, and are often matched by savings on electric bills. Palm Desert has experienced a boom in solar installations since August, 2008, because going solar has no net cost.
Combine these two policies nationwide, and solar installations will literally go through the roof.
4. Use Brownfields For Solar
For those large projects we do need, there are many heavily abused areas throughout the Southwest that would make ideal sites. For instance, the Imperial Valley Enterprise Zone, in Imperial County, CA, features 5,000 acres of abandoned farm land that is truly unproductive, both for people and for nature.
The Desert Protective Council and other environmental groups have worked to produce maps showing where these “desert brownfields” are, and to encourage solar entrepreneurs and government agencies to direct solar projects to these lands. Learn more about converting brownfields to “brightfields” at this EPA site or check out our “Bad Solar, Better Solar, Best Solar” map.
5. Don’t Use High-Quality Habitat
If we follow points 1 through 4, we can combat global warming while also protecting the land that plants and animals need in order to survive the inevitable warming we’ve already caused. Yet solar entrepreneurs and energy utilities have pursued projects in high-quality habitat areas, mainly because this public land is virtually free. This land provides homes for endangered animals such as the desert tortoise and the Peninsular bighorn sheep, as well as numerous endangered plant species.
Solar projects scrape the entire site to the ground, and often take 4,000 or more acres to produce the same energy as a very small gas-fired power plant. Water use is also a concern in a region that is already running dry. Multiply these impacts by the large number of power plants proposed in the desert, and the loss of habitat and water become significant threats to these species’ survival.We already know that habitat destruction is the main threat to the diversity of life on our planet. Especially when better alternatives are available, these unique habitats should be protected, along with the plants and animals that depend on them.
The Desert Protective Council is a non-profit organization that has been protecting, caring for, and educating the public about southwestern deserts since 1954. For more on DPC, visit http://www.dpcinc.org.