LA Times Solar Reporter Draws Fire From Greens

Julie Cart has been pissing off developers with her tough coverage of solar power projects in the California desert for a long time, and now the Los Angeles Times reporter has a fresh batch of critics in the climate-change community.

Cart was the target this past weekend of a Daily Kos piece by the climate blogger RLMiller that suggested the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist might be “the most anti-solar reporter in the mainstream media.”

ivanpah birds power tower

The three-tower Ivanpah project, under construction (image via BrightSource Energy)

Dozens of comments, Tweets and shares followed, and the Miller piece got a further bounce when Climate Progress reposted it.

Miller’s critique took Cart to task on a number of specific points, and scored some nice hits. On her most recent piece, which explored complaints that Big Solar might cost desert counties more than they hoped while delivering less than promised, Miller pointed out something we didn’t learn reading the Times, that the Riverside County supervisor Cart credulously gave a platform to has received a lot of campaign cash from fossil-fuel interests (and none from the solar industry). Seems noteworthy, no?

Miller also linked to analysis of an earlier Cart story that suggests pretty powerfully that her discussion of the pricing of power from the Ivanpah plant now being built in the Mojave Desert was incomplete to the the point of being misleading.

Along with the specifics, Miller had a more general complaint: “Julie Cart has been assigned to the California desert solar beat for several years,” he wrote. “Anyone whining about Big Solar finds her writing a sympathetic story.”

I think there’s truth to this; I’ve never seen a Cart story that wouldn’t have left a casual reader wondering why on earth there’s even any consideration of building solar power in the desert, they’re that emphatic.

That’s unfortunate, but not for the banal reason that Cart’s stories might impede solar power development. The problem with her work is that it is so relentlessly negative and so lacking in balance and context that the interesting and useful points she brings up are easily dismissed by solar advocates as the rantings of someone who is “anti-solar.” I’m sure she believes she’s simply being tough, but with none of that toughness applied to solar’s critics Cart’s coverage has become no more useful than the polar-opposite coverage provided by the endless number of green-leaning websites, who do little more than freshen up the press releases companies issue.

We need fierce, talented reporters like Julie Cart covering renewable energy development, hard, so we do renewable energy right, not so we get flashy and trashy stories that all the usual suspects who hate solar in the desert love and all the usual suspects who love solar hate.

Anyway, I wrote an email to Cart, asking her if she would comment on the charge that she’s anti-solar, and she politely (and understandably) turned down the opportunity, replying, “I can’t be drawn into a debate, as I am not an advocate.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

2 Comments

  • Reply November 27, 2012

    GeorgeS

    Who knew the desert solar beat had such an impact on the green blogging and journalism communities. It’s good that she is being critical but not to the point of “fox news” critical, where facts are pushed aside for an agenda.

    • Reply November 27, 2012

      Pete Danko

      Thanks for the comment.

      It’s an important beat because this is where nearly all of the utility-scale solar power development is happening in the U.S.

      I should make clear, though: I don’t think Cart has an agenda in the Fox News style; I don’t even think she’s anti-solar. I think it’s her belief that her job is to question the government-business alliance that is pushing for solar development in the desert. And I think it’s a good thing to do that. But she runs into problems (IMHO) by not applying scrutiny to the critics of solar in the desert, many of whom have a political agenda and offer shaky science, and by failing to present solar development in a larger context.

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