Twentynine Palms Set To Ban Solar Fields

(September 14)  The Twentynine Palms Planning Commission last week set the stage for a prohibition on commercial solar fields both within the city and its sphere of influence.
Though it is a quintessential desert town, influential Twentynine Palms civic leaders and many of its residents have drawn a line in the sand against massive scale power farms, even as national leaders have hailed solar power as the wave of the future and a means of achieving American energy independence and rejuvenating the economy.
On September 4, the commission endorsed a resolution calling for the city’s development code to be amended with the ban. The commission asked the  city council, in the event it does not approve an outright ban, to place exacting standards on any solar fields that are permitted.
While expressing approval of photo-voltaic panels, photo-voltaic film, photo-voltaic laminates and so-called solar panels, all of which can be applied to existing or new homes or industrial or commercial structures, the commission was less accepting of more aggressive solar power projects, i.e., commercial solar fields.
Solar fields are generally large scale facilities that entail variations on a few basic designs, all of which entail a massive array of solar mirrors. One design involves the arrays focusing the sun’s rays on a central vessel containing water. The heat from the redirected sunlight causes the water to boil and the steam is used to drive a turbine, which in turn creates electricity. Another design entails having the mirrors focus the sunlight on a glass tube or series of glass tubes containing Therminol, a synthetic petroleum product.  Therminol, which has various ratings that allow it to absorb temperatures ranging from 700 degrees  to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, is then pumped to a heat condenser, which is used to boil water and create steam to run turbines and generate electricity. A variation on this design entails pumping the Therminol not to a heat condenser but to a series of Stirling engines, devices which have compression chambers inhabited by gasses of differing densities. By passing the heat across the top of the engines, the pistons are activated. The Stirling engines are then used to run the turbines to generate the electricity.
The planning commission collectively held that commercial solar fields are incompatible with the city, its character and its land use policy. The reasons given for excluding them ran to the fields not employing many workers; the potential that they would represent a loss of property tax revenue to the city; the visual blight and obstruction they would entail; the harm they would do to the local tourism industry; the deleterious impact on adjoining property uses and values; impacts on the quality of life for surrounding residents; as well as ecological harm in the way of damage to indigenous flora and fauna and archeological artifacts.
The commission also called for solar fields to be restricted to the southeast quadrant of the city and its sphere of influence if the city council, in its wisdom, at some future date allows such projects to be undertaken.

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