Thursday, June 01, 2023

Hidden Impact of Massive Solar Farms: Residents and Wildlife Affected, Aquifers Threatened

California’s deserts are transforming into a sea of solar panels, as the state seeks to reach ambitious renewable energy goals. But a growing group of residents and environmentalists say the move is coming at a significant price to wildlife, nearby residents’ health, native lands, and even property values.

With 776 solar power plants producing approximately 17 percent of the state’s electricity, the Golden State is awash with bright silver and blue panels dotting hundreds of thousands of acres.

Millions of panels have been installed east of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert over the last five years, changing the look of the landscape in the process, and bringing with it a new set of challenges for nearby residents, according to experts.

Dustin Mulvaney, a professor of environmental studies at San Jose State University said he is concerned about their impact on public land, including damage to ecosystems and soil and high water demand.

“There is potential concern for groundwater depletion,” Mulvaney told The Epoch Times.

A California law passed in 2014 regulates groundwater usage and is designed to preserve water supplies, but it does not apply to public lands.

Such are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency that oversees 245 million acres of land—15 million of which are located in California.

The bureau has prioritized 870,000 acres nationally for solar development, with more than 200,000 acres already sporting solar panels in California, according to its website.

But concerns about the impacts on wildlife have some advocacy groups calling for a halt in such expansion until guidelines can be implemented, as animals are being displaced and migratory patterns altered due to the increasing quantity of such solar farms.

Birds have been observed mistaking the shiny blue solar panels for water, and the mistake is costly, as the extreme heat from the reflective material can instantly incinerate them, according to experts.

Desert tortoises are being killed and displaced, and bighorn sheep and deer are restricted from accessing some areas by six-foot barbed wire fencing surrounding such solar farms, leading to a loss of grazing habitat and restricting some creatures from navigating trails and accessing water sources, according to environmentalists.

And corridors designed to allow movement for wildlife are inviting predators—as the wily carnivores are learning to wait for prey emerging from the narrow strips of grass—into communities, with an increase in coyote and mountain lion sightings since the fences were installed, according to residents.

Health Problems Driving Some Residents Away

Residents of Lake Tamarisk Desert Resort located halfway between Phoenix and Los Angeles in Desert Center, California, say the construction of such solar farms is causing considerable nuisance, with some reporting health problems because of increased dust in the area.

Patti Cockcroft said she has been seeking medical attention since she started experiencing a deep bronchial cough in March after spending two months in her desert home impacted by high winds and dust from a nearby solar field.

Tests are currently underway to determine whether she has valley fever—a serious illness associated with severe health complications and potential fatality—and doctors have told her the extreme conditions could have triggered a severe asthma attack.

“It’s not very enticing to think of going back to the desert,” Cockcroft said in an email sent to The Epoch Times.

Experts agree that issues related to construction-related soil removal and the resulting human exposure to dust particles are alarming.

“The real public health issue is valley fever,” Mulvaney, of San Jose State, told The Epoch Times.

Investigations conducted in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control uncovered an increased incidence of valley fever in solar farm construction employees resulting from working in dusty conditions where fungal spores in the soil become airborne.

After receiving reports of workplace injuries associated with valley fever, investigators discovered that solar farm workers in California were 4.4 to 210.6 times more likely to suffer from the illness than others working and living in the same counties.

Dusty conditions can also lead to lung disease silicosis, which is of particular concern for miners manufacturing solar panels and for workers and nearby residents during the installation process, according to experts.

Compounding Problems Affecting Communities

A vehicle pileup near Los Angeles in 2013 was partially blamed on a solar development project after six were injured when a massive dust cloud forced the closure of the Antelope Valley Freeway.

Efforts to mitigate dust by solar companies are compounding problems for some local communities, according to Teresa Pierce, another Lake Tamarisk resident.

According to Pierce, such companies drive diesel-powered water trucks, creating noise and dust pollution while draining aquifers not refilled regularly by nature.

“Their water trucks are going round and round our pumping station,” Pierce told The Epoch Times. “It’s been a dust bowl with constant construction noise.”


India plans to challenge EU carbon tax at WTO

Indian plans to file a complaint to the World Trade Organisation over the European Union’s proposal to impose 20% to 35% tariffs on imports of high-carbon goods like steel, iron ore and cement from India, top government and industry sources said.

This is part of New Delhi’s strategy to combat the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) designed to push local industries to invest in new technologies to bring down carbon emissions, while also raising the issue in bilateral talks.

Piyush Goyal, India’s trade minister, is on a visit to Brussels to meet EU leaders to address bilateral issues and promote trade. “I’m sure the intention is not to create a barrier to trade,” he told a news conference after his meetings on Tuesday (16 May).

“We remain engaged, we are discussing the issue and we have a long time ahead of us in which we will be working together to find the right solutions to this.”

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said the European Commission had designed CBAM carefully so that it was compatible with WTO rules, applying the same carbon price on imported goods as on domestic EU producers.

Last month, the European Union approved the world’s first plan to impose a levy on high-carbon goods imports from 2026, targeting imports of steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity, and hydrogen, aiming to become a net zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050, ahead of India’s target of 2070.

“In the name of environment protection, EU is introducing a trade barrier that would hit not only Indian exports but also of many other developing countries,” said a top government official with direct knowledge of the matter.

The government was planning to file a complaint to the WTO against the EU’s unilateral decision and would seek relief for exporters, particularly small companies, the official said without disclosing further details.

India sees the proposed levy as discriminatory and a trade barrier, and would question its legality while citing that New Delhi was already following the protocols pledged in the U.N. Paris climate agreement, said another government official involved in the team dealing with WTO matters.

Three industry sources who attended a meeting last week called by the government to discuss the issue confirmed the plans to raise the issue at the WTO.

Officials declined to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media. The commerce ministry and steel companies did not comment.

The European Parliament on Tuesday approved sweeping reforms to make EU climate change policies more ambitious, including an upgrade of the bloc’s carbon market that is set to hike the cost of polluting in Europe.

Policymakers are examining proposals from the steel industry that has sought a “level-playing field” through safeguard measures against imports as a reciprocal measure.

“Sectors like steel and small manufacturers need more time to meet EU guidelines,” said Ajay Sahai, director general, Federation of Indian Export Organisations, adding they would ultimately need to cut emissions to remain globally competitive.

The exporters’ body warned the EU plan could make India’s free trade agreements with other countries and a proposed pact with the EU “redundant” as the prices of many exporters’ goods would rise by nearly one-fifth after the carbon tax and other trade partners hurt by the tax may dump goods in India.

Initially, nearly $8 billion of exports mainly steel, iron ore and aluminium would face tariffs, Sahai said, but by 2034, it will cover all goods exported to the EU.

The carbon border adjustment is likely to be followed by other advanced countries including the UK, Canada, Japan and the United States as they push to cut carbon emissions, he said.

A ministerial panel is looking into the impact of EU plans and steps to deal with it including mutual recognition of energy audit and carbon trading certificates, Santosh Kumar Sarangi, director general foreign trade, said on Monday.


Restore sanity to the green debate

Eighty years ago, with the dawn of nuclear weapons, children were forced to confront the possibility that the world could end suddenly. In the 1950s, American school pupils were even shown the cartoon Duck and Cover to teach them how to shield themselves in the event of a Third World War breaking out. Now, children are being taught that climate change represents a similarly apocalyptic threat. Inevitably, as we report today, many are desperately worried.

Those responsible for promoting such alarmism are deeply irresponsible. If the majority of teenagers think that the world will end in their lifetime due to climate change then they are clearly not receiving a balanced education. Scientists and economists are divided on the pace of temperature rises, their impact and the correct response. The consequences of such misinformation on children are far more certain: many suffer mental health problems; others vow not to have babies to prevent “over-population”. This despite already crashing birthrates in the developed world.

Such millenarian despair is also irrational, breeding a sense of futility when there is ample evidence that humanity’s unique capacity for innovation is more than capable of driving change while actually improving living standards.

Sadly, this has not been the approach adopted by politicians pursuing the hubristic goal of net zero by 2050. It is true that the cost of renewables has slumped in recent years, but far too little effort has been put into ensuring that there is sufficient power from alternative sources for when the sun is not shining and the wind does not blow. Much of the supposed progress in this area has also only been achieved thanks to lavish subsidies that have made energy prices even more expensive than they otherwise would have been.

One of the biggest problems with British environmental policy, however, concerns the imposition of unrealistic targets for the abolition of petrol cars and domestic gas boilers. It may well be that alternative technologies will, some time in the near future, be able to replace them without any inconvenience or additional cost to consumers. At present, however, they are not ready.

Indeed, the push to require households to install heat pumps is fast becoming a fiasco. Not only are they exorbitantly priced and unsuited for swathes of the British housing stock, the Government is launching an investigation after concerns about the noise they produce. Voters quite understandably do not want to spend thousands of pounds on heating systems that are worse than what they have replaced.

Rightly, society has made and is making great strides with regard to the environment. From the potential of nuclear fusion to a technological revolution in agriculture, there is much more to come. Children should be taught to regard their future with awe and excitement, to embrace its possibilities, not fear them or feel that a life of want and poverty is the only responsible option. Campaigners who have mistaken the classroom for a bully pulpit exclusively to spread prophecies of doom among impressionable teenagers should be rooted out.


Going green will roil world politics

When Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915, he ordered two technical changes to ensure the British fleet stayed more powerful than the expanding German navy.

One adjustment was to develop a 15-inch battleship gun that could fire bigger shells. The other, in 1913, was to convert the British fleet from coal to oil to boost battleship speed. The biggest gamble of the switch from coal to oil was that the UK was ditching a fuel found in abundance at home for an imported energy source. To ensure oil supplies, London took control of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the first business to extract oil from Iran, where it was discovered in 1908.

The UK navy’s shift to oil and the ensuing pre-war tussle with Germany to gain influence in the Middle East is just one of countless episodes whereby the scarcity of oil fields has sculpted history.

The shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy will do something similar. The move makes more vital minerals such as cobalt, copper, graphite, lithium, manganese, nickel, palladium and rare earths (that are abundant but hard to gather and costly and polluting to refine). The scramble for green inputs will transform global politics in at least nine ways.

One is that petrostates will lose relevance longer term. But there are complexities. In the short term, petrostates will enjoy the muscle conferred by higher prices, as uncertainty about oil’s long-term future reduces production before demand drops. When oil prices fall enough to ruin high-cost producers, the better-placed petrostates could gain enough market share to preserve global relevance.

Coal and natural gas are on the same trajectory but it’s milder because they are found in too many places to have the rarity value of oil fields. Of the two, natural gas will have more influence. As Europe has learnt, natural gas is important regionally and its delivery infrastructure slows switching suppliers.

A second change from the shift to renewables is that countries that possess, or can secure, deposits of clean minerals will become powerful ‘electrostates’, while those countries lacking these endowments (Western Europe) will be vulnerable. Australia, Chile and Russia have 21st-century minerals. China lacks them so it’s buying mines in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile (the ‘Lithium Triangle’) that has 56 per cent of known lithium reserves.

Some poorer countries with critical minerals might become mini-Saudi Arabias in wealth and status. Their challenge is not to become exploited and unstable states like the minerals-rich Congo, and thus stay weak powers.

In the short term, countries that can process green minerals and manufacture components for green technologies will enjoy diplomatic might. China is well placed due to its loose pollution safeguards, cheaper workforce and strategic smarts. In 2019, 60 per cent of the global rare earths supply came from China. The country dominates global battery, solar and wind turbine production.

Going green’s third global impact is the shift could backfire on countries whose emissions-reduction targets are so aggressive they are performing ‘unilateral economic disarmament’. These countries overestimate the capability of renewables to match the reliability and base-load abilities of discontinued fossil fuels. Think Germany before the Ukraine war (and Australia in coming years).

The fourth effect is that going renewable is triggering a rush for critical minerals in international waters. China’s spread across the Pacific is partly about securing minerals found in the seabed. The Arctic and Antarctic could one day host scrambles for minerals.

A fifth change is the countries that pioneer the renewables drive will pressure others to follow. Laggards could be subject to ‘green tariffs’, boycotts and other sanctions. Such actions are likely to cause trade frictions, if not trade wars.

A sixth global outcome of going renewable is that the quest splits advanced and developing countries. Poorer nations see that countries that grew rich on coal, gas and oil are being hypocritical when they demand emerging countries forgo the opportunity to industrialise using cheap fossil fuels to repair the damage done by rich powers.

Seventh, climate-change policies require government intervention in energy markets and international cooperation. The more governments subsidise local green industries, the more they will anger other countries. International agreements require cajoling among countries. The more there are pacts, the greater power global bodies gain over countries, the more bickering among countries to secure signatures, and the more fallout if countries fail to meet targets or threaten to, or do, withdraw from accords.

An eighth effect of going green is that securing energy supplies could alter allian-ces. India, if it can’t secure Australian coal, warns it will turn to Russia (see Gina Rinehart opposite). Where would that leave the ability of the ‘Quad’ of Australia, Japan, India and the US to push back on China?

Ninth, greenhouse-gas emitters will use their cooperation on climate as a bargaining chip. China, which spews out 27 per cent of global emissions compared with 11 per cent for the US, has stated its cooperation on climate change depends on countries relaxing stances on Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, where Uighurs are persecuted.

The switch to renewable energy is thus poised to rejig the global order. In time, the effects are likely to be as big as were oil’s but with one difference. The global political consequences of oil tended to spur greater efforts to find oil. The international effects of going renewable, however, will trigger challenges that retard the green drive, even to the extent of helping the case for nuclear.

To be sure, global politics shapes energy policies too, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows. Discoveries, technological advances and greater nuclear uptake could reduce the need for renewable power and many of its global consequences might never eventuate. It’s not all rival versus rival. Countries are cooperating on climate change. The shift to green could lead to fewer tussles about energy because renewables make countries more energy self-sufficient.

But no energy switch is without political complications. Just study the history of oil. In time, the tale of the switch to renewables will probably be as fraught but less successful.




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