星期五, 十月 23, 2020
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RENEWED ENERGY: Clean Energy Clashes With Wildlife In California


California enjoys a reputation as a leader in clean-energy technology, but bringing new renewable-power projects to life in the most populous U.S. state has proven surprisingly tough.


Permits that would allow construction of a wind farm in Santa Barbara County and a large-scale solar facility in San Luis Obispo County are being held up by the state Fish and Game Department, which wants the companies to buy development rights to more than one thousand acres of land, at a cost of between $3,000 and $8,000 an acre. The land would be set aside for wildlife displaced by the projects.


The permitting disputes demonstrate some of the hurdles that renewable energy developers face not just in California, but nationwide, and cast a light on the difficulties policy makers face in trying to balance clean-energy development with other environmental goals.


"There has to be some reconciling of two very important societal values: protection of wildlife including birds, and moving forward with some haste to get alternative energy going," said Doug Anthony, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department's Energy Division.


The debate over renewable energy versus wildlife is heating up as California pursues and expands its ambitious renewable-energy goals. Regulated utilities are required to use renewable generation for 20% of the power they sell by 2010. The state legislature, with support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is widely expected to boost that mandate to require all utilities to use renewables for a third of their retail power by 2020. The 33% target is a centerpiece of the state's climate-change plan.


Trouble getting environmental permits to build new projects is one of the chief barriers holding up development of new renewable-energy projects, the California Public Utilities Commission concluded in a recent report to the state legislature. At least 13 projects for which developers have signed contracts with large utilities have been delayed due to permitting problems, the CPUC said.



Bats, Birds And Foxes



Pacific Renewable Energy Generation, a unit of Spanish conglomerate Acciona S.A. (ANA.MC), wants to build an 83-megawatt wind farm on 2,950 acres of blustery, coastal hillside in rural Lompac, Calif. The company signed a 20-year contract with PG&E Corp. (PCG) utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and won approval for the project from the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission.


But the project is on hold pending an appeal by the Fish and Game Department, which has proposed that the company purchase rights to more than 1,000 acres of land that would be set aside for wildlife habitat. At current land prices, such an acquisition could cost more than $8 million. Fish and Game is concerned that the wind farm could kill and displace golden eagles and other wild birds, as well as bats. It disputed the company's assertion that the area isn't heavily used by these creatures and asked the county to require Acciona to buy the land for a conservation easement. The county has resisted.


"I'm very sympathetic; I love birds too," said Anthony, of the county's Planning and Development Department. But "the benefit of the project outweighs the impact."


The company is working to resolve the issue with the agency, whose Oct. 21 appeal "came out of left field," project developer K. Harley McDonald said. "We had worked with the local Fish and Game representative for months…and they said nothing," though now, "I think they want to work with us."


The Fish and Game Department is working to resolve the issues on the Acciona project as well as about 15 other renewable-energy projects statewide, said Kevin Hunting, deputy director of the agency's Ecosystem and Conservation division.


"I'm sure we can reach some point where we have a resolution," Hunting said. "It's not Fish and Game's intent to appeal every environmental document for renewable energy projects," he said adding the agency plans to help streamline the permitting process for renewable-energy development.


Acciona hopes to reach an agreement with the agency before the county's Board of Supervisors votes on the appeal at its next meeting Dec. 16.


Worries over the impact on wildlife are also dragging on plans by OptiSolar, a privately held manufacturer and installer of thin-film solar panels in Hayward, Calif., to build a 550-megawatt solar power plant on 6,200 acres of desert in San Luis Obispo County. The company has signed a power purchase agreement to sell the output to PG&E.


The area is home to the San Joaquin kit fox, listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to the state Fish and Game Department. Other wild animals, including tule elk, pronghorn antelope, burrowing owls and California condors, also inhabit the area and because of habitat needs, wouldn't be able to coexist with the solar project, the agency concluded. The agency's solution: for every acre of wetland and riparian habitat lost to OptiSolar's project, the company should purchase an acre of land and convert it into livable habitat. No one at OptiSolar could be reached for comment.


Further south, opposition to a high-voltage transmission line proposed by Sempra Energy (SRE) utility San Diego Gas & Electric that would bring new solar, wind and other renewable energy to California's grid has been fueled largely by local environmental groups who argue that the project would devastate desert wildlife.



Nationwide Problem



The battle over renewable energy versus wildlife isn't distinct to California.


Bird watchers in Colorado are fighting a $480 million wind farm that oil giant BP PLC (BP) unit Greenlight Energy Inc. wants to build in Grover, Colo. The bird enthusiasts are concerned that the blades on the 300 large wind turbines could kill prairie falcons and other wild birds.


And aside from wildlife concerns, wind farm opposition is often driven by home owners worried about plummeting property values, particularly when a project is close to a residential area.


In Massachusetts, regulatory and court battles over the proposed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound have dragged on for seven years, with detractors worried that the turbines would ruin sea views, hurt tourism and depress property values.


But in much of the country, such fears may be unfounded.


"Although research remains scant, wind farms appear to have a minimal or at most transitory impact on real estate," the National Association of Realtors says in a guide for realtors on its Web site.


                  


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