Parabolic mirrors at a solar thermal plant.
From Wikipedia. In public domain.
Senator Feinstein battles solar power plant development in the Mojave Desert
Environmentalists and home owners block proposed solar power plant! An unexpected headline, but one that is becoming more and more frequent.
In general, the type of solar power plant that we’re all counting on to save us from the evils of coal and gas are the solar thermal type. These plants work by focusing the sun’s rays on some sort of fluid, heating the fluid hot enough turn water into steam, and then using the steam to spin turbines and make power.
The problems with solar thermal plants are that they require covering a lot of sunny land with mirrors to focus the sun onto the transfer fluid and they use a lot of water. California is full of sunny land in the form of our vast deserts, but covering those lands up with mirrors can screw up the ecosystem. Also, the water that the solar power plants use up could be used for farming or drinking by the communities nearby, which is usually the reason those communities object to solar power plants.
A company called NextEra is facing these concerns in a city east of Bakersfield called California City. They want to build a 250 megawatt solar power plant, but the locals balked when NextEra said that it needed half a billion gallons a year of fresh water to keep the plant running, so NextEra got creative.
In return for permission to build, NextEra is promising to help rid the area of tamarisk trees; an invasive species that can drink up a million gallons per acre of trees. They also have a plan to use reclaimed water for their plant, easing the burden on California City and possibly improving the community’s water quality by keeping the salt and nitrate laden water out of the basin.
The California Energy Commission seems more inclined to listen to them now, but no word as yet on when construction will start. To learn more about the project, read the article in the Los Angeles Times. For more on how a plant goes through water, check out this Wikipedia entry on "wet cooling."