California should lead the way, pairing clean energy and protected open space

The Hill
By Jamie Williams and Nancy Pfund
July 11, 2016

Right now Cal­i­for­nia awaits the release of a cru­cial land man­age­ment plan that could serve as an exam­ple for the entire nation. Once imple­mented, the Desert Renew­able Energy Con­ser­va­tion Plan (com­monly referred to as the DRECP) will stand as a cor­ner­stone to California’s energy inde­pen­dence, facil­i­tat­ing clean, renew­able energy pro­duc­tion while con­serv­ing large stretches of pris­tine and vul­ner­a­ble desert lands. Cal­i­for­nia must move for­ward — demon­strat­ing that con­ser­va­tion and renew­able energy devel­op­ment can coex­ist in the 21st century.

Phase one is a Bureau of Land Man­age­ment plan which is unprece­dented, both in size and scope. Cov­er­ing 10 mil­lion acres of BLM-​​managed land, the DRECP is a con­struc­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion between fed­eral, state and local agen­cies — pro­vid­ing a roadmap for the place­ment of large-​​scale renew­able energy projects in the most appro­pri­ate loca­tions. Once imple­mented, it will ben­e­fit California’s fight against cli­mate change and serve as a model for other states look­ing to bal­ance clean energy and con­ser­va­tion needs.

This plan can deliver real progress toward meet­ing California’s ambi­tious man­date to pro­duce 50 per­cent of its energy needs from renew­able sources by the year 2030. Ulti­mately, suc­cess in Cal­i­for­nia and else­where will require inno­va­tions, includ­ing energy con­ser­va­tion, effi­ciency, and stor­age; wide­spread rooftop solar deploy­ment; and large-​​scale wind, solar and geot­her­mal pro­duc­tion on both pub­lic and pri­vate lands. On the large scale energy front, the DRECP, with its care­ful zon­ing of renew­able energy projects, can greatly accel­er­ate California’s tran­si­tion to a clean energy econ­omy. When the BLM applied a sim­i­lar zoned approach in Nevada, three solar projects were approved in under ten months – less than half the time it has taken using more hap­haz­ard project-​​by-​​project methods.

The need for a solid plan is clear in the Cal­i­for­nia desert, a region already feel­ing the impacts of pro­longed drought and ris­ing tem­per­a­tures from cli­mate change. If we’re going to get seri­ous about slow­ing the march toward extinc­tion for many native plants and ani­mals, we must move swiftly to invest in clean energy, while tak­ing steps to con­serve wild places. With pro­tec­tion, these desert lands can become a wide, con­nected safe-​​haven, pro­vid­ing enough space for plants and ani­mals to migrate and adapt to a warm­ing temperatures.

Home to the desert tor­toise and herds of Nelson’s bighorn sheep, hawks and bob­cats, California’s desert lands are a real life sto­ry­book of West­ern his­tory – com­plete with Native Amer­i­can pet­ro­glyphs, pio­neer trails and his­toric min­ing towns. Some places seem untouched over thou­sands of years – even as the city of Los Ange­les burst through its bound­aries, cre­at­ing a sub­ur­ban empire to the West, and Las Vegas exploded into a global gam­ing and tourism des­ti­na­tion to the north. Mirac­u­lously, squeezed between these fast-​​growing cities, you can still find soli­tude and tran­quil­ity in nature, with places to hike, camp and wit­ness the aston­ish­ing beauty of a starry night sky.

As lead­ers in both con­ser­va­tion and renew­able energy, we encour­age the BLM to move quickly to final­ize the Desert Renew­able Energy Con­ser­va­tion Plan. We can seek renew­able energy solu­tions with­out spoil­ing our pre­cious pub­lic lands. Cal­i­for­nia is poised to demon­strate to the nation that ambi­tious goals, com­bined with intel­li­gent plan­ning, can yield excep­tional results. Let’s push this inno­v­a­tive plan over the fin­ish line.