The Terra News

Sweeping plan to use Mojave for solar, wind development wins OK

By Carolyn Lochhead Updated 4:17 pm, Wednesday, September 14, 2016

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    Photo: Mark Boster, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

    At the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California's Mojave Desert, some of the plant's 347,000 garage-door-sized mirrors used to generate power can be seen. California is looking for a reliable way to store green energy for when customers need it. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

    WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave final approval in Palm Springs on Wednesday for a sweeping renewable energy development plan within nearly 11 million acres of public lands in California’s Mojave Desert, one of the largest intact ecosystems in the continental United States.

    Jewell described the California desert as the “epicenter” of President Obama’s goal to produce 20,000 megawatts of solar and wind power on public lands as a key element of his agenda to fight climate change, which she called “the most pressing issue of our time.”

    The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, a joint effort between California and the federal government, sets aside more than 600 square miles of land for renewable energy development, with streamlined permitting for giant solar and wind plants, mainly in Riverside and Imperial counties. Another 625 square miles are available for potential development under stricter rules. More than 6,500 square miles are set aside for conservation, meaning industrial development is ruled out.


      The plan, which is being administered by the Bureau of Land Management, has generated enormous controversy, pitting national environmental groups concerned about climate change against local conservationists who insist that the state should concentrate instead on rooftop solar, which generates power on developed land rather than in remote wild areas.

      The solar and wind industries have criticized the plan as all but unworkable, as did off-road-vehicle recreationists.

      The desert plan has taken nearly the entire eight years of Obama’s presidency to complete, complicated by the need to reconcile two inherently conflicting goals: putting big solar and wind farms on public land to fight climate change, while at the same time conserving the fragile desert ecosystem, which scientists say is a large natural carbon sink.