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Introduction

In the recent past, the world has been experiencing environmental challenges caused by industrial development, a situation which necessitates an increased supply of energy. The changes have prompted environmentalists into calling for better policies in the global energy sector. Currently, several governments and organizations are turning to renewable sources of energy, as they have a reduced effect on the environmental degradation compared to non-renewable sources. The most common sources of non-renewable energy includes nuclear and petroleum (Polizzotto 2009). It has been established that the two have a remarkable environmental impact, a fact which has prompted conservationists and environmentalists to advocate for such sources as hydro- and wind power. Though these alternative energy sources have their associated challenges, they are largely preferable especially on the basis of cost benefit analyses. Other renewable sources include the wind, tidal, as well as geothermal energy (Carey 2003).

This paper focuses on the utilization of solar as an alternative source of energy. There are two main ways of exploiting the solar energy. These are the direct and indirect exploitation. Indirect exploitation is mainly achieved through photosynthesis and other natural processes which are accomplished by plants and animals. This paper centers on solar power. Emphasis is laid on the recent solar projects that have been carried out in Riverside County of California State, USA (Carey 2003).

Project Description

Solar power is obtained through harvesting of sunlight, which could either be direct, i.e. through the utilization of photovoltaic systems or indirect where solar power is concentrated before being tapped. Photovoltaic are solar cells that are made from materials such as gallium arsenide, cadmium telluride, crystalline silicon, or some other semiconductors. These materials are usually placed in thin slices and they help covert solar radiation to electricity (Polizzotto 2009). The Desert Sunlight project in California is estimated to constitute about 8.8 million cadmium telluride slices of photovoltaic. Collecting of sunlight and converting it to electricity is mainly accomplished through a process called photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaic effect is excitement of electrons by photons of light into a state of energy high enough to allow them to operate as electric current carriers. The direct electric current from these solar cells is either used directly through electrical equipments, or in charging batteries, a situation which facilitates its storage for later use (Phillips & Museum 2008).

A single solar cell cannot provide enough current for use and thus they are connected into modules. This is due to the requirement of huge amounts of sunlight; a fact that necessitates the mode of collecting sunlight to be large enough to facilitate sufficient tapping. In this regard, such projects as Desert Sunlight, a project that is being constructed in Riverside County, California, requires several squire miles for adequate tapping and generation capacity. In this case, Desert Sunlight is hoped to occupied about six square miles, an area that is just enough for the production of 550MW (Castellano 2010). This is a considerably large area, but with solar such a surface area is inevitable for an effective production of remarkably large amounts of power. The construction is part of a wider project that is to cut a cross six states in the United States including California, Arizona, Colorado New, Utah, Mexico and Nevada. The six-state project will cover 37 square miles of federal owned land, an area which will enable the production of over 3000 MW of electricity (Fogarty & Lamb 2012).

The electric current generated from the power project has got a remarkable impact in the state’s power provision. Upon completion, it is estimated that it will produce 10 percent of California’s electric energy.  The project will be carried out in two phases, where the first phase is expected to produce 300 MW, and this will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for distribution. The second phase is aimed at producing 250 megawatts that will be distributed by Southern California Edison into the grid (Tro 2012).

Environmental Setting

As explained earlier, this project is located in the Riverside County of California where it covers a desert area which had a significant economic importance to the county, especially in tourism. This desert is covered by creosote bush and is near Joshua Tree National Park. There are several native sacred spots of the indigenous Indian community who inhibited the area. The topographical coverage of the area is also uniquely covered by ground markings which are highly important. One of such topographical ground markings is a hunchbacked flute figure, near Kokopelli. Additionally, there are other historical places, cultural resources, as well as Indian graves in the vicinity (Tro 2012).

With regard to the inhibition of the area, it is notable that the natives living in the area have been there for long yet it seems likely that the project would displace them. Though it may seem to be an issue of little importance, these native have adapted to the environment, and have, as such, learnt to live in the desert. The project will impact them negatively, and thus adequate compensation may be necessary. There is also an issue of cultural tie with the area. In fact, such issues as the abandoning the land where the dead have been buried may prompt resistance. Several societies have great respect for their dead and the Indian community is not an exception. Destruction of such graves without proper consultations would instigate hostility which may derail the strategic plans of this project (Laughlin 2011).

The region’s flora and fauna is another cause for worrying. Despite the fact that the area is a desert, it does not mean there is hardly any vegetation. The desert has got vegetation as well as animal life, though sparsely distributed. In an endeavor to preserve the flora and fauna, there has been preservation plans for the area (Soto 2011). This is hoped to ensure proper conservation of vegetation and animal life that inhibit the area. The vegetation of interest includes alluvial fans, creosote-covered flats saltbush, and playas, and Joshua tree forest. The quality and size of the Joshua Tree Forest is unique and unparallel by any other forest cover in the world. It is believed that there are 803 plant species, a number which represent 85 families of plants that are found in the forest (Laughlin 2011). With such a project being carried out, it is clear that the existence of this vegetation is threatened and could be lost as significant clearance has to be done.

In relation to fauna, the desert and those in neighboring states have a substantial number of plant species, and these species support about 300 species of animals. These include 36 reptile species, 206 bird species, and 47 mammal species. The solar project would definitely prompt a displacement of the animals due to the required area and wide range of activities that will be taking place. Though animal transfer is being planned, there will be a necessity to exercise caution as not every animal species is transferrable. Again, the transferred animal species may take time to adapt to their new habitat (Soto 2010).  

Considering that a desert receives a remarkably large amount of sunshine, it is clear that the site a preferable option for such a project. In most cases, the desert experiences excessive heat that can be effectively tapped for the production of solar power. Moreover, there is little of agricultural value that can be done on such desert lands, and as such, the land in question would avail greater economic gains by hosting the project than by being utilized in the current manner. The choice was preferable as desert landscape is not as sloppy as other geographical locations (Polizzotto 2009).

The desert substrate is specifically conducive for the flora and fauna species that are thrive in them. The geological substrates support such plants as alpine meadows and desert scrubs. They also provide livelihood to animals such as certain types of reptile species for example longhorn beetle which feeds on and reproduces in the elderberry bush which is found in central valley riparian. A number of California’s special wildlife species have adapted to surviving in harsh, hostile environments. For instance, the special taxa of indigenous pupfish are conformed to salty humid waters of remote desert pools and streams (Wallace 2011).

Conclusion

Lastly, the location has been a recreational destination for tourists who enjoy its natural diversity. The residents of the state, therefore, hope that the project will be hugely successful as this is the only way that it can compensate for the lost revenue. The area has been an important wildlife sanctuary and its utilization for such a commercial activity means that it will no longer be conducive for flora and fauna. With the loss of wildlife and wild vegetation, the location will record a significantly reduced number of tourists (Wallace 2011).

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