It is difficult to capture the sense of peace that washes over me while in the West Coast. I cannot attribute my immeasurable joy to one facet. Is it the climate? The slower pace of life? The topography? The friendly locals?
What stands out when I close my eyes are the stretches of dry heat at temperatures. They are bearable at a much higher threshold than their East Coast counterparts. I remember standing outside in 110 degrees heat. Somewhere in Buckeye, Arizona- I let my eyes soak in the scene beyond the paving of the rest stop I was standing in: blurred boundaries of horizon, mountain, and desert. Bright, yet warm hues of brown, yellow, orange...
Long ranges of mountainous topography serve as stationary reference guides no matter how many miles of road your tires hit. They follow you no matter where you go. Phoenix is a flat city, encompassed by mountains all around. Throughout the Mojave Desert, and in Kingsman, AZ, the mountain ranges echo your lineal travel. In California, the mountain ranges appear diverse at shorter distances- sometimes hidden, and sometimes emerging from behind well known landmarks. Regardless of where you travel in these three states, the mountains are always close by.
While I have much to say about the many beautiful towns and enclaves of the West Coast, I thought I would highlight some truly amazing renewable energy projects that are picking up momentum in power generation throughout the years. So check out my photography below, read about my personal experiences, and send me your comments!
ARIZONA'S TALIESIN WEST
80% of Taliesin West is powered by solar! A television display in the gift shop on site indicates the amount of power generated. It is amazing to see a National Historic Landmark embrace renewables! Solar panels are not visible on the structure itself and do not detract from the beautifully preserved estate. As you drive up the long winding dirt paths toward the Wright site, the solar array will emerge to your left. They are set back from the main road, hidden behind diverse desert landscaping.
NEVADA'S HOOVER DAM
A 1930s construction and engineering feat, the Hoover Dam is one of the largest generators of hydroelectricity in the country! Three cheers for renewable energy! Sited upon the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam provides power to three states: Nevada, Arizona, California. That's approx. 4 BILLION kWh each year! Interestingly enough, around the time I visited, Lake Mead (which connects directly to the Colorado River) hit a historic low point (which would cause the Colorado River to shrink).
CALIFORNIA'S IVANPAH SOLAR POWER FACILITY
Driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, a shiny speck lingered on the horizon from a far-off distance. Driving closer, the small spectacle grew into a bright light. When I finally drove alongside the farm, I realized I was passing by a concentrated solar thermal plant! While I didn't spot any clear signs designating the facility alongside Interstate 15 (Hey federal government, can we please place big signs for the energy nerds out there, and for general education to the public?), a quick GPS search told me I was mesmerized by an array of heliostats and mirrors, comprising a solar thermal plant. Heliostats are devices equipped with mirrors that track the sun. The sunlight is concentrated on the receivers of three solar power towers, producing steam to generate electricity.
What you see pictured below is one of the solar thermal plants on site- there are 173,500 mirrors in California's Mojave Desert! The plant opened in 2014, and to this date, has generated over 400,000 MW-h.
CALIFORNIA'S SAN GORGONIO PASS WIND FARM
I drove through the nation's largest wind farm, while leaving Southern California and driving towards Phoenix. Located in Riverside County, California (just east of Palm Springs), around 4,000 wind turbines are sited to power Palm Springs and Coachella Valley! I can't seem to find an exact number on the number of wind turbines, and this may be due to the fact that some of the turbines are not operating. In fact, I would estimate 1/3 of the ones I saw were completely static! A wind power industry expert recently advised me that some of these turbines may actually be outdated models that just have not been replaced (cost & maintenance are huge issues with wind turbines!) Whatever the story is on these (there's no exact reading either on power generation!- only a single outdated statistic which tells me an annual generation of approx. 900 GWh of electricity), wind speeds do reach 15-20 mph. A mix of desert and coastal air make this the perfect site to harness the energy of the wind. This is definitely worth the drive-through as the turbines are quite the sight due to number and height! If you ever do pass through, step out of your car for a minute and feel the strong winds of the deep mountain pass.
GREENING THE GRAND CANYON
While I didn't spot any renewable energy systems throughout the Grand Canyon West Rim, I do want to share the National Park Service's green measures- if one of the country's largest tourist attractions can set an example for the millions of tourists it receives each year, then let's showcase it! Click here to learn about the Canyon's green measures.