The Bureau of Land Management has unveiled a plan for a major swath of the southwestern U.S. that sets aside 6.57 million acres for conservation, establishes an overlapping, 3.6-million-acre zone for recreation, and explicitly allows only 388,000 acres for renewable energy development.
The plan suggests that land mass would support 27 gigawatts of energy capacity, the Washington Post reports. Another 500,000 acres could also be used for energy projects, subject to applications to BLM.
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“With today’s release of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, the Interior Department and BLM missed a golden opportunity to balance the preservation of parts of the California desert with clean, renewable energy development across some of America’s richest renewable resource areas,” said Solar Energy Industries Association Acting President Tom Kimbis. “The Obama administration is unparalleled in its support for renewables, but this plan permanently locks up some of our greatest untapped solar and wind resources, and chooses regulation over innovation and progress.”
“It’s just a complete disconnect with our climate change ambitions,” added Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association.
The plan is “a Model T in a Tesla world,” agreed Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-Scale Solar Association. “Rather than fostering sustainable clean energy development as a part of a conservation plan, it severely restricts wind and solar.”
Conservation groups were divided on whether the plan went far enough to protect the desert. The Wilderness Society sees the plan as “a thoughtful and balanced blueprint for the future of the California desert,” said Pacific Region Director Dan Smuts. But the Center for Biological Diversity’s Ileene Anderson characterized it as “a compromise plan that provides more than enough land to reach California’s current renewable energy goals and beyond, but fails to adequately protect important wildlife habitat.”
Sierra Club Senior Representative Barbara Boyle said the desert is not the only place to develop renewable energy. “The California desert is just one piece of the puzzle, and we believe that this is more than enough acreage.”
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell cast the announcement as an important milestone. “We pulled up, and looked at conservation on a landscape scale,” she said. “And that is the wave of the future.”
“We’re signing this important decision that continues the BLM’s commitment to renewable energy in the desert as well as providing for the conservation of the natural cultural and recreational resources of this environment that we manage,” the Bureau’s California director, Jerry Perez, told the Washington Post.
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