Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tessera Not Sustainable

Below is a letter to the Saguache County Commissioners from long-time sustainability 
advocate and green builder, Kelly Hart.  
Kelly is an internationally recognized advocate for all things authentically green.  His website, greenhomebuilding is one of the most comprehensive resources for sustainable living available on the web.

by Kelly Hart
Green Home Building and Sustainability Expert, Crestone, CO

I have been a long time advocate of renewable energy, having devoted much of my life to implementing strategies for sustainable living. At first, when I heard about Tessera Solar's interest in building a solar electric plant in Saguache County, I was in favor of it. But then as I found out more about the specifics of the situation and the technology, I began to have doubts about its overall benefit.

Being truly sustainable often means utilizing appropriate technology, and I think that the massive use of Stirling engines with mirrors focusing the sun for heat to run them is not appropriate in this situation. There are several reasons why I think this is true.

First of all is the noise; these engines generate a LOT of NOISE. I have heard recordings taken at other installations of the same technology, and I have talked to people who have actually been present at these installations with audio monitors, and it is clear that, because of the proposed scale of the plant, the noise would prove to be a daily annoyance for quite some distance around the site.

View of SunCatcher glare from Sandia Labs
My second concern is visual; sunlight reflected by huge mirrors can be blinding. Some of this will undoubtedly be visible to various areas within the valley, and provide an additional annoyance.

My third concern has to do with the technology itself. Stirling engines are complex machines that require monitoring and maintenance on a regular basis. The efficacy of this technology over time is unproven.

My fourth concern is about the site itself. I have toured the Whitten Ranch, a direct neighbor of the proposed site for Tessera Solar. You could not find a more sustainable ranching operation in the entire world; it is a model for how to go about raising beef in an ecosystem that presents huge challenges to all ranching. And this ranch has been doing this for many generations! If the Tessera Solar operation becomes reality this may spell the end of this tradition.

If the Tessera Solar technology were the only way to generate renewable electricity in this valley, then perhaps all of the above negative impacts would be outweighed by the benefits. Fortunately this is not the case. There is another way to go about providing renewable energy that is more appropriate.

8.2 MW/80-acre SunEdison solar plant near Alamosa
I favor photovoltaic panels for this, as demonstrated just outside of Alamosa on Highway 17. PV is a proven technology, having been around and functioning well for decades. These panels are silent, they have a very low profile and so are not as visually offensive, they require practically no maintenance over a lengthy period, and they can be employed either in very large arrays or as independent, smaller installations to provide a more robust "distributed" generation of electricity.

For all of the above reasons, I encourage the County Commissioners to deny this application for the Tessera Solar project.


Anonymous said...

Stirling engines have been around and in extensive use for DECADES. They're not new technology. And people keep saying they run on hydrogen, which is completely false. They are a temperature differential engine; totally sealed units that create no emissions other than sound. The mirrors aren't going to reflect sunlight into your eyes, distracting your morning coffee time. The whole point is to reflect the light into a very specific concentrated spot: onto the "hot side" of the Stirling engine. If it reflects elsewhere that would defeat the whole point. Start using some real arguments: water use? effects on the groundwater? etc. The weak arguments just turn people off of the whole thing...make an issue that is logical and solid. Tell us how many gallons of water will be consumed per day. Tell us how many megawatts could be generated with PV instead of concentrated solar per square foot (it won't work in your favor...PV takes more space per MW generated) If you are really opposed to this thing, create an argument that I will be convinced by...I'm still on the fence, and I'm sure not the only one. Lets do what is right for our world, not just our valley.

Anonymous said...

Doing Solar Right is what's right for the San Luis Vally and the rest of the world. Industrialization that destroys the environment and communities - no matter where - isn't renewable, sustainable or right.

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