February 2014 - Solar in the Desert

Feb 28, 2014

Captain's Log 1XE, Day 7 in the month of February in the Earth Calendar Year of 2014.


During the winter season many of our flights depart IFR from our base in snowy Aspen, Colorado. In aircraft parlance that can be interpreted as "I follow roads". The valley is filled with snow showers of unknown intensity as we bob and weave our way downvalley, following HWY 82 and the Roaring Fork River, a major tributary of the mighty Colorado. Out onto the Colorado Plateau, now following HWY 330, the showers start to dissipate, and once again we get a wonderful panorama of red rock country shrouded in white. As 1XE proceeds onwards through the desert to Palm Springs, the skies are clear and the flying is smooth.


Off come the parkas, gloves and hats, and out come the shades to deflect the bright sunlight. We welcome this small-scale climate change.


We have been asked by National Parks Conservation Association to provide the aerial perspective to highlight the California Desert Protection Act. An eclectic mix of reporters and elected officials has been brought together to take an aerial educational tour of this extremely remote, hard to get to and phantasmagoric ecosystem.


The California Desert Protection Act includes the full panoply of land designations and habitat protections ranging from wilderness, national monument, national preserves to national parks.


As we head toward the general vicinity of Las Vegas the enormity of the undertaking of protecting 1.6 million acres of this wild land weighs on your mind. From the air you can indeed imagine a Paleolithic land rift with volcanic eruptions and a seabed of unimaginable proportions, from huge sand dunes to unique and beautiful lava flows. It is indeed vast, but there are so few large intact natural areas left in our country that it is unique, and it is no wonder that the surrounding protected areas bring in $230 million annually in revenues. A remarkable number.


As we fly past Clark Mountain, along I-15 doing 200mph, we are greeted with one of the truly remarkable sites and achievements in solar technology: the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. The Ivanpah, the world's biggest concentrating solar power tower project, goes fully online just a week after our flyovers with three towers generating enough energy to power 140,000 homes. Quite a site (sight).


Definitely food for thought as we all appreciate sustainable and renewable energy production, but where are the appropriate places to locate these technologies? It is a perfect foil for our flight over some of the solitary valleys in the Desert Protection Act that may be filled up by all kinds of resource extraction and footprints of man- whether it is a huge solar array or an encampment of ORV racers, like the King of the Hammers Race we passed over enroute. It is a stunning and world-class landscape that begs the attention of people who are serious about land use and conservation.




Bruce Gordon