If there are two facts that anyone who has any knowledge of the Mojave Desert knows for sure, they are that the area has ample amounts of both sun and wind. There are also plenty of wide open spaces. This would make the California desert a prime candidate for the development of both solar power plants and also wind farms.
And as was reported in the Desert Dispatch last week by Abby Sewell, that is exactly what the Bureau of Land Management has in mind. They are currently reviewing applications for solar and wind developments in the eastern Mojave Desert. Nineteen of the applications, which cover a total of 42,000, acres are within the boundaries of former railroad lands, according to BLM spokesman Steve Razo of the California Desert District Office.
These former railroad lands were donated to or purchased by the Department of the Interior for conservation, and thus were thought to be protected forever. But the Bureau of Land Management considers them to be open to all types of development other than mining. And this fact is at the heart of the current controversy over using those lands to develop sources of alternative energy.
Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, a long-time supporter of renewable energy, has said that many of the lands in this desert area under consideration for this type of development are unsuitable. "Unfortunately, many of the sites now being considered for leases are completely inappropriate and will lead to the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert," Feinstein was quoted by Reuters.
The Desert Dispatch also reported that Senator Feinstein plans to introduce legislation that would protect nearly 600,000 acres of the former railroad lands located between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve by designating them as a national monument, thus making them off limits to wind or solar energy production.
Along with Feinstein, groups like the Wildlands Conservancy are also up in arms over any proposed development in this area, since they contributed millions of dollars to help purchase the lands for the sole purpose of conserving them. Wildlands Conservancy director David Myers said the solar projects would do great harm to the region's desert tortoise population, as well as destroy the entire Mojave Desert eco-system, the Mercury News reported.
Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has complained about environmental concerns because they slow down approval of solar plants in California. He was quoted by the Mercury News as saying that, "If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it."
There appears to be somewhat of a partisan divide on this topic, which is really not all that surprising, but this controversy has also created disagreement in an unlikely way, which is causing somewhat of a rift in the environmental community.
Those in favor of protecting desert areas in their pristine and natural condition are often the same people who believe in and want to develop solar and wind resources as alternative energy options, believing that clean-energy projects should be a top priority in the state and the country. And so the current efforts on both sides of the issue have caused some discord among these usually like-minded individuals.
The vast size of the California desert should logically allow for a compromise that could potentially satisfy almost everyone. Reasonable protection of the delicate and fragile eco-system of the desert should be able to coexist with careful development of the plentiful solar and wind-power potential that the desert has to offer, if those developers put forth the effort to minimize environmental damage.
Even the chairwoman of the California Energy Commission, Karen Douglas, made the comment that "The opportunity we see in the Feinstein bill is to jump-start our own efforts to find the best sites for development and to come up with a broader conservation plan that mitigates the impact of the development." Douglas also said that if monument lines were drawn without consideration of renewable energy then a conflict would be likely, but she is confident the state will be able to get more solar and wind projects up and running without hurting the environment. "We think we can do both," she said, as was reported by Fox News.
A compromise on this issue is essential. The need for renewable sources of energy, as well as the protection of natural habitats, should be kept in mind by all sides as they work together to come to a reasonable solution on this important issue.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carol Jensen is a long-time Barstow resident, graduating from Kennedy High School and Barstow College, where she was an English instructor for many years. Much of her time now is spent writing political and social commentary. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.