Identifying and Prioritizing Geographic Areas for Renewable Development in California
May 10, 2012. - Sacramento - The California Energy Commission Lead Commissioner on the Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) held a workshop to gather input on identifying and prioritizing geographic areas in California for both renewable utility-scale and distributed generation development. Commissioner Carla Peterman oversees the 2012 Integrated Energy Policy Report Update. Chair Robert Weisenmuller was also present.
The purpose of this workshop was to seek input from experts, stakeholders, and the general public on:
- Preferred characteristics of priority areas for renewable development in California.
- Current efforts, strategies, and best practices that could be used to help identify priority areas with those preferred characteristics.
- Developing local goals to build toward the statewide goal of 12,000 megawatts of renewable distributed generation.
Distributed generation (DG) includes solar photovoltaic systems, small wind, small hydro, and small footprint biomass close to fuel sources, under 20 MW.
Federal and State Efforts for Renewable Energy
Several planning efforts are running parallel:
- Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DERCP) for the California deserts.
- Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) started in 2007 to combine land use and transmission planning.
- Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) begun in 2008 to identify suitable land for renewable energy and sensitive species area.
- Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), a federal effort on Department of Interior lands.
- A California Energy Commission best practices manual of 2011.
- Bird and bat wind energy guidelines came out in 2009.
- The Environmental Protection Agency produced a RePower America Initiative to map degraded lands that could be used for renewable energy.
In California, 8,000 MW of new transmission lines and upgrades are now being built, and more are planned.
The Utility View
Southern California Edison (SCE) warned that transmission was a problem in many areas. There are large transmission-constrained areas, mostly in the desert areas, that have little or no operational margin for new distribution without impacts. Developers should look at capacity circuits and propose projects in unconstrained areas, such as Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and the Bay Area, where connection will be quicker and less costly. Even small projects could create big impacts if built in constrained areas.
Randy Howard explained how Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) was busy with many projects for the future. A focus on wind in the Tehachapi Mountains and eventual divestiture from coal were discussed. Transmission, "owned and paid for by our ratepayers," needs to be updated to carry renewable energy, DWP said. The utility is trying to cluster renewables into three areas to make most of new and planned transmission projects: the Pacific Northwest, Utah, and Tehachapis. Another cluster is planned for in the Imperial Valley. The 10 megawatt Adelanto photovoltaic solar project is in the queue, as well as PV on city buildings and city-owned disturbed land -- 200 MW in the future.
LADWP's Feed-in-tariff is running, and if the first 10 MW prove successful the utility will try 150 MW by 2016.
The controversial Pine Tree wind project is owned by LADWP in the Tehachapis, and the utility has acquired more land adjacent for a second project. "We hope to address the avian issues." Eagles and potential condors are threatened by the sensitive location of this project and the target of a lawsuit by Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club.
Geothermal projects owned by LADWP are another push. One plant is jointly owned with the Imperial Irrigation District in Imperial Valley. LADWP wants to look at the Mammoth area next for geothermal development. LADWP owns 500,000 square miles of land in the Owens Valley.
New transmission projects are planned, such as the Barren Ridge (Eastern Sierra) to Castaic, with a planned pumped storage facility by 2015.
A 5-MW solar pilot project is planned on Owens Dry Lake to test whether PV can be used for dust control mitigation.
Noah Long of Natural Resources Defense Council said areas of degraded and impaired lands, brownfields, and areas in and around the urban core should be used to site solar. 90,000 acres of chemically-altered farmland exist in the Westlands Water District of the San Joaquin Valley, he pointed out, close to existing transmission. There may be as much as 200,000 acres. But there is a lack of developer interest.
The Commissioners said they were looking at future priority areas in Imperial Valley, the west Mojave, and San Joaquin Valley.
Kim Delfino of Defenders of Wildlife said better planning was needed for siting, transmission, and mitigation. She said Defenders thought the DRECP planning effort was a good idea, although it was a "heavy lift" to plan for 20 million acres. She mentioned the idea of "regional energysheds," like watersheds, that could each be analyzed with a programmatic CEQA (California Environmental Policy Act) review.
EPA Degraded Lands Program
Cora Peck of the US Environmental Protection Agency made a presentation on the benefits of siting solar and wind on contaminated sites. Quicker and easier were words she used. EPA will soon come out with an advanced Google Earth online mapping tool that lists owners, clean-up status, slope, and other data. A solar and wind decision tree was released a month ago for use by urban planners to study the feasibility of contaminated sites. The City of Richmond was a pilot area.
Prime Farmland Controversy
John Gamper, representing the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the use of prime agricultural land was a grave concern for them. "We are most concerned with PV," because of the very large footprint. He encouraged using a diversified portfolio of renewables, including geothermal and biomass, which have much smaller footprints.
He also demanded taking all Williamson Act agricultural lands off the table, and site solar only on salt-ingrained lands.
According to the California Department of Conservation:
The California Land Conservation Act of 1965--commonly referred to as the Williamson Act--enables local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open space use. In return, landowners receive property tax assessments which are much lower than normal because they are based upon farming and open space uses as opposed to full market value. Local governments receive an annual subvention of forgone property tax revenues from the state via the Open Space Subvention Act of 1971.
But in order to make room for large solar projects, Williamson Act contracts are being canceled, and "this is illegal and unconstitutional," said Gamper.He compared this renewable land rush to the affordable housing boom which gobbled up agricultural land, and was a part of the eventual mortgage crisis, he claimed.
In one generation there has been a 20% decrease in farmland. in 25 years the acreage of farmland has gone from 10 million acres to 8 million.
Also unique farmland should be taken off the table, land that grows the top 40 crops. 300 crops are grown in the state. "We need every acre for food production," he said. He called it the "fiscalization of land use."
Gamper mentioned a solar easement approach, similar to conservation easements, in that a developer would pay the difference between what the land is worth and the solar project. But like conservation easements, the higher the value of the land, the lower the easement and so this would skew the value again or prime ag land.
Gamper also disagreed that DG should be defined as 20 MW and under. Gamper said a 20 MW project is actually quite large, 160-200 acres. Distributed generation should be limited to 5 MW or less. He says the Farm Bureau was a big supporter of net metering. A 0.5 MW solar system could power 900 water pumps in a cooperative area.
Solar Developer Weighs In
Michael Wheeler of Recurrent Energy explained how his company developed 20 MW plus utility-scale PV projects. "When the mandates and subsidies are gone we want to ensure solar is as cost-effective as other forms of energy." By far the biggest concern for them were interconnection costs. First and foremost they look at transmission capacity. It is easier to find transmission for su-20 MW projects. The Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project currently under construction might be a favorable area to site larger projects (this area is in the West Mojave Desert). He said they do not like to build on high value land such as prime ag land.
A representative of Cal Fire suggested using the woody biomass produced by growing and dying vegetation of the wildlands for fuel. Cal Fire is a state agency responsible for fire suppression and removal of woody material on 31 million acres, including 9 million acres of private land. Net emissions could be used by decreasing the use of coal. 4.2 million bone dry tons per year of woody material are produced in the state, a potential of 5.6 million MW per year. Distributed biomass facilities under 3 MW could be used, including combined heat and power, and gasification.
Basin & Range Watch points out that such widely scattered woody material in forests and wildlands would require long truck trips from remote areas to generation plants, thus emitting CO2 in transport. Local use of orchard cuttings and farm waste in smaller areas would be more efficient.
UC Berkeley School of Law Opinion
Jeffrey Russell, UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, supported DG and encouraged the Energy Commission to study locational attributes, distribution systems, so solar systems do not cause backflow onto the grid. He said 20,000 MW of local solar could be connected without triggering the need for transmission upgrades, and "we think this is remarkable." He recommended solar be sited in urban areas to avoid impacting environmentally sensitive parts of the state, and get utilities to cooperate with local communities.
Scott Flint, of the California Energy Commission, gave an overview of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. It is a form of a Natural Community Conservation Planning program (NCCP), begun by the California Department of Fish and Game to plan for resource protection and development on an ecosystem-based approach. The DRECP has many stakeholders of different state and federal agencies, environmental groups, and others. Genetic connectivity of species, climate change, and cultural and archaeological resources are also being mapped. Developers would pay a fee that would go towards mitigation in this large area.
Wade Crowfoot of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research defined DG as projects less than 20 MW located on the distribution grid or a center of demand. They have a goal of 12,000 MW of distributed generation in cities, near manufacturing facilities, and on farms. He said the Governor wants to electrify transportation and increase efficiency. "We need both large-scale and DG" to meet climate change needs and demand growth, he said. Solar needs to grow 12% every year until 2050, and wind 7.5% per year. The amount of land to facilitate this would be just under 1% of California's land surface.
Kim Delfino of Defenders of Wildlife pointed out that 1% of California is nearly 1,600 square miles, a large area.
A representative of the US Navy said they are considering solar projects on lands within China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and the Naval Air Facility El Centro.
Eric Parfrey of Yolo County said they had encountered wind issues they had never expected, brought up by biologists from UC Davis when just one wind turbine was proposed in a sensitive area. Barotrauma mortality of bats, and potential collisions by Swainson's hawks, which are just now making a come-back from a steep decline. This almost went to litigation. Now a Texas developer is proposing a giant wind project on 60,000 acres with 200-250 turbines along the west side of the Central Valley in Yolo and Colusa Counties.
Albert Lopez of Alameda County similarly said wind issues were a big problem -- eagle deaths -- at Altamount Pass, and an expansion of wind projects was planned in that area. The county had an interest in PACE programs which enable homeowners to finance solar rooftop systems through city loans, but this was held up by the federal government. Lopez also mentioned the enormous energy demand of pumping water through Alameda County wildlands from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to San Francisco, through Sunol and Fremont; perhaps PV could be placed along the pumping path and this be applied to the state Renewable Energy Portfolio.
Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California brought up the good points that this supposed "DG" workshop still seemed skewed towards utility-scale renewable planning. CEC still needs to talk about prioritizing DG. This is a consumer-driven and policy-driven area, and the consumers should be engaged, not just the utilities. Demand for rooftop solar could be mapped, where is the momentum and growth? The transmission planning process is overly weighted towards the utility-scale projects.
Commissioner Peterman responded that the state 33% RPS requires large-scale renewable projects.
Basin & Range Watch agrees with Del Chiaro, the whole discussion has been inadequate when studying how DG policy could be made a priority.