Response to #5: Ricky, the Sunrise Powerlink isn't really about bringing solar power to San Diego; it's about bringing fossil-fueled power into the country from Mexico. The "green" angle was dreamed up by "San Diego's overlords" (good term there, Don) in a meeting a few years ago (covered by Dean Calbreath in the Union-Tribune a few months ago). Go to www.sdsmartenergy.org to find out more about the "bait-and-switch" behind the Sunrise Powerlink.
There is a problem with desert solar power: it requires scraping thousands of acres of desert habitat. To get 900 megawatts, Stirling Energy Systems proposes to cover 7,000 acres of desert in Imperial Valley with solar collectors. The project you mention in your next comment would also have to cover 7,000 acres to get 1,000 megawatts. This may be appropriate on already disturbed land, or fallowed farmland in Imperial County.
I used to think that the solar collectors would merely create shade over undisturbed habitat, but if you look at photos of the existing solar facility at Kramer Junction in the Mojave, you'll see that this is not the case. The land is scraped bare. Not only does this destroy the habitat, but it creates a dust problem, which Imperial Valley already has enough of.
Why is desert habitat important? Beyond the fact that desert plants and animals are uniquely adapted for the harsh conditions in which they live, and beyond the fact that many of these habitats are already threatened by a variety of impacts, there's this: intact desert habitats store carbon, at a rate similar to temperate forests. I think you'll agree that we wouldn't cut down a forest to install a solar facility. Intact habitats, including those in the desert, are one of our best defenses against global warming.
Some sites in the desert may be appropriate for solar power, particularly those that are already disturbed and that are close to existing transmission (like the IAUS facility you mention). What we don't need is a willy-nilly rush to build vast solar farms in the desert, regardless of the habitats they would destroy.
To find out more about the value of desert habitats, go to www.dpcinc.org.
As Don points out, urban rooftops and parking lots are better places for solar power. And this photovoltaic solar power is catching up both in affordability and size to the thermal solar power generators proposed for the desert. A recent article put the price at around 9 to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour for newly developed "thin film" photovoltaics. This is the technology Southern California Edison will use in a 250-megawatt installation on commercial rooftops in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. (A well respected energy industry newsletter covered these developments, available here: http://tinyurl.com/5dqeyv).
The same article put the price of conventional solar trough generators at 14 cents per kilowatt-hour. If accurate, the price quoted by IAUS beats this considerably. — July 31, 2008 1:22 p.m.