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California’s Expanding Solar Energy Grid Threatens Wildlife

California’s Expanding Solar Energy Grid Threatens Wildlife
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California’s Expanding Solar Energy Grid Threatens Wildlife

Source: Pinterest

California’s continuous heavy reliance on solar energy as a means of electricity generation poses a threat to the environment and wildlife. Currently, millions of California residents rely majorly on solar for energy production. 

According to San Jose State University Professor Dustin Mulvaney, who focuses on teaching environmental studies, there are possible threats to California’s growing dependence on solar power for electricity generation. 

California Ensures Protection of Its Natural Area

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Mulvaney opined that although California has done a good job protecting its natural areas, solar infrastructure is not usually built in the right places, which may kill plants and animals. 

However, Nevada is where much of the solar infrastructure will benefit California, and development has had a significant impact on the area.

ALSO READ: New EPA Regulations Under Biden Ignites Concerns About Energy Shortages  

Animals Affected by the Solar Infrastructure

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One animal affected by the solar infrastructure is the tortoise. This tortoise can be found in Nevada, where 18,000 acres of tortoise habitat have been replaced by utility-scale solar farms located around the Mojave desert. 

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, the desert tortoise has just been added to the list of species affected by solar infrastructure. 

Effect of Solar Farm in the Wilderness

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Mulvaney, an SJSU environmental studies professor, discusses what will be lost if a solar farm is built in the wilderness. The professor mentions some of the wilderness animals that may suffer from its effects. 

He mentioned pronghorn antelope, old-growth barrel cactus, desert tortoise, kit fox Bighorn sheep, and old-growth barrel cactus as animals that will be affected by solar farms because they fragment their habitat. 

Ecological and Cultural Significance of Solar Farms

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The professor further highlighted the effects of building solar facilities on where it’s not meant to be. He mentioned its cultural and ecological significance. 

According to Mulvaney, most of the big solar farms are not controversial; they only get controversial when stationed in landscapes of ecological and cultural significance; sometimes, these can be considered of cultural importance for tribes. 

Emphasis on the Need for Utility-Scale

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Mulvaney further points out the need for utility-scale solar; this was when the professor was asked about rooftop solar, which would not require much land to become unusable. 

Mulvaney explained that there should be more rooftops, but more utility scales will also be needed because of how those grids are built. He said that the utility-scale provides a higher level of efficiency, which is essential when trying to cater to a large population. 

Practical Explanation About Fully Rooftop System

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The professor was asked whether there is a need for huge solar farms with environmental consequences. Mulvaney was able to give practical explanations about the full rooftop system. 

In his theoretical explanation, he explained that rooftop solar panels and batteries can power a community. However, some factors need to be considered, including the crucial need for sunlight availability and the cost of battery storage for solar energy, which can be quite costly. 

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Mulvaney Speaks About Solar Development

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The professor also discusses the issue of transmission lines. Mulvaney highlights solar development and mentions the connection between coal-fired power plants and transmission lines. 

He discussed transmission lines as the reason we see projects the way they are. The professor referred back to the 1960s when transmission lines were built to connect to coal-fired plants in the western part of the US. As the coal-fired plants burn, they give power to transmission lines. 

Greenlink Transmission Line As the New Solar Development

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There is a new development regarding the transmission lines called the “Greenlink transmission line.” The new plan for solar power will connect Las Vegas, Nevada, and Reno, California.

This connection passes through a Native American site and several sensitive ecosystems. According to Mulvaney, Nevada has little protection for public lands from solar development projects. 

Possibility To Avoid Important Lands to Conservation

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The interviewer asked the professor if there was any way to meet California’s energy needs without forcing solar projects into the wilderness. 

Mulvaney replied by referencing a study. Based on calculations, it is possible to avoid important land conservation, but it would increase the cost of power by just 3 percent. 

Multifunctional Solar Projects as a Possible Solution

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Mulvaney speaks about solar being a multi-functional project as a solvable solution to disputes about solar power. 

In the professor’s view, he argues that disputes about solar power are solvable problems if the technology can make solar projects more multi-functional. For instance, there will be less concern if solar projects can produce energy and food simultaneously. 

ALSO READ: Japan Lunar Module Lands on the Moon Despite Broken Solar Panel 

Concern About the Effect of Solar Energy on the Environment

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Solar energy is one of the technologies humans rely upon to fight climate change. However, there should be concern about how this solar energy affects the environment around it. 

Mulvaney said that if we think of climate, we should also consider its effect on land. He further emphasized the need to always consider wider solutions to these effects. 

Possible Solution to the Problem of Solar Energy on Wildlife Habitat

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To avoid constant solar energy threats to wildlife habitats, there is a need to consider a careful selection of locations for solar farms. When selecting a location, there is a need for a thorough environmental assessment and consideration of the ecological sensitivity of an area. 

Also, creating a buffer zone can help minimize any disruption to the wildlife population. Implementing measures for wildlife corridors and habitat restoration is also important. 

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