Massive 25-Year Desert Renewable Energy Plan Puts Environmentalists on Notice

Friday, September 26, 2014
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (photo: BrightSource Energy)

A team of state and federal agencies unveiled a sprawling 25-year plan for streamlining development of renewable energy sources that would cover nearly a quarter of California and produce 20,000 megawatts of power by 2040.    

The 8,000-page draft of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) was five years in the making and sets the stage for California’s push to reach its 2050 goal of energy emissions 80% below 1990 levels. It is a joint production of agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior and California’s Natural Resources Agency.

The plan is designed to exceed projected energy needs by 20% and would shift locations and power sources based on developments. It is meant to replace the haphazard development that burst across the desert after the federal government made billions of dollars of stimulus money available shortly after President Obama was elected.

Generating that much electricity is not without environmental costs. The report says:

“The development of large-scale renewable projects in Development Focus Areas would also impose dramatic visual changes to high-value recreational areas. Over 40 percent of the Development Focus Areas for any of the action alternatives are within 5 miles of Legally and Legislatively Protected Areas.”

That includes Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve.

All this unfolds against a backdrop of climate change, where predicting the future use of fossil fuels is complicated by drought and a rapidly evolving environment.

The plan involves designating zones of private and public land for large-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects in the desert and inland valleys spread across the Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

Conservationists waited five years with somewhat less than bated breath for the report’s release, knowing that it fast-tracks development across sensitive habitats and is certain to amp up hostilities already generated by existing desert projects. There are ongoing battles over protecting desert tortoises, certain reptiles, some fish, plant life and birds fried by solar plants and chopped up by wind farms.

Barbara Boyle of the Sierra Club told the Los Angeles Times the plan would generate “a lot of agitation in the desert.”

While the plan encourages development in the zones it has designated, which tend to be less environmentally sensitive, it does not set standards for those projects that might be approved with a variance (at a higher cost and slower pace.) That variance worries conservationists, too. David Lamfrom with the National Parks Conservation Association told the Times, “They are unwilling to make a courageous decision to say no to horrible projects.”

The public has until January 2015 to comment on the plan.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Released (by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun)

Energy Plan Calls for Big Renewables Projects in State’s Deserts (by Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle)

New Desert Plan Proposes Clean Energy-Conservation Balance for One-Quarter of California (by Ari Phillips, Think Progress)

Desert Plan Seeks To Balance Environment, Renewable Energy (by Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times)

Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

Solar Farm in the Mojave Seen Igniting One Bird Every Two Minutes (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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