Are some solar projects no longer ‘green’?
Conservationists worry that a plan for the Mojave desert will upset species’ habitats.
Ivanpah Valley, Calif.
Solar companies proposing large power plants in the Mojave Desert are facing opposition from conservationists. They say a rush to build solar here threatens to tear up large tracts of desert habitat and open space.Skip to next paragraph
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The squabble is likely to intensify now that Congress this week moved forward on a long-term extension of the solar tax credit. Two other proposed bills would fast-track solar power projects looking to build on federal lands. State mandates on utilities to provide more renewable energy has created an enormous market for solar, an energy that requires two things the Mojave has in spades – acreage and sunshine. But the desert’s defenders argue that solar panels should be located on city rooftops rather than pristine lands.
“If there were just one [proposed plant], we could deal with that. But we are looking at essentially every valley that is not protected as a national monument or park as being a potential site for solar,” says John Hiatt, a Las Vegas-based environmental activist. “It will be the industrialization of the Mojave Desert.”
“It’s a land rush,” says Greg Miller, the renewable energy program manager in the BLM’s California office. “The 80 [California proposals] I’m mentioning are just those who are first in line. We’ve got another 40 or more on top of that [who] are betting the company in front of them will lose out.”
No project has yet made it through the BLM’s permitting process. Overwhelmed, the agency tried this summer to put a moratorium on new applications.
“I don’t see us putting 80 solar projects on BLM land, there’s no way. I don’t see us putting 30,” says Mr. Miller, who notes the agency must manage the land for multiple uses. “And I hope the solar industry hears me on that.”
The BLM’s pace has displeased some in Congress. Rep. Jon Porter (R) of Nevada introduced a bill last week that would limit the BLM’s permit process to 180 days. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California is proposing doing away with environmental impact reviews. Mr. Rohrabacher says he is trying to “make sure that people who have something to offer other human beings [won’t] be stymied because the BLM thinks insects or reptiles are more important.”