Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yet Another Front In The Solar Wars

Solar energy proponents are getting pretty adept at jumping through hoops in order to bring more capacity on line. First there were questions about the cost and efficacy of solar; then there were the problems related to building new transmission lines to service new solar farms; then there was the unexpected and ironic conflict between planned solar farms and sensitive desert ecology. Now a new obstacle has popped up: water.

With California in the throes of chronic drout, and a contentious legislative debate over water policy, the New York Times reports that two new solar farms slated for development will require over 1.2 million gallons of water for cooling purposes. You can imagine how that sounds to parched delta farmers and spoiled southern California homeowners who are watching their lawsn become more brown every day due to water restrictions.

According to the Times:

"The West’s water wars are likely to intensify with Pacific Gas and Electric’s announcement Monday that the utility will buy 500 megawatts of electricity from two solar power plant projects to be built in the California desert.

The Genesis Solar Energy Project would consume an estimated 536 million gallons of water a year while the Mojave Solar Project would pump 705 million gallons annually for power plant cooling, according to applications filed with the California Energy Commission."

At issue is "wet cooling" which requires constant replenishment of evaporating fluids, versus "dry cooling" which uses less water but is more expensive and eats into profit margins.

Water Use by Solar Projects Intensifies [New York Times- Green, Inc.]