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State budget could bring more renewable energy projects to Mojave

MOJAVE DESERT • The 2009-10 budget proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger aims to bring more renewable energy projects to the Mojave Desert.

Although the proposed budget released on New Year’s Eve includes cuts in many areas, it would set aside funding to streamline the process of bringing solar power and other renewable energy projects to the Mojave and Colorado Desert regions.

The budget proposal would set aside $3 million and create 20.9 positions for the Department of Fish and Game to develop a plan aimed at facilitating the permitting of renewable energy projects in the Mojave and Colorado regions. In a related item, the California Energy Commission would get $2.6 million and 10 positions to assist the Department of Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management in developing solar projects while minimizing environmental impacts.

H.D. Palmer, deputy director for the California Department of Finance, said despite the state’s current fiscal crisis, the governor felt it was important to continue making strides in renewable energy.

“One of the things the governor has been committed to since he took office is to make California a leader, not just nationally but internationally, in renewable energy,” he said.

The budget items follow on an executive order Schwarzenegger issued in November, calling for an expansion of renewable energy generation in California. The governor determined that the permitting process needed to be streamlined in order to meet a state mandate that retail sellers of electricity supply 33 percent of the state’s electricity with renewable energy by 2020.

Under the executive order, the CEC and DFG would create a “one-stop” permitting process aimed at cutting the application time for many projects in half.

Susanne Garfield, a spokeswoman with the CEC, said that in the past, there have been hold-ups in permitting renewable energy projects on federal land, because the state and the federal government have very different permitting processes. Although the state has no authority to regulate federal standards, better coordination among state agencies could facilitate the process overall, she said.

“We’re trying to consolidate and, at least correlate the processes,” Garfield said.

San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt expressed concern about the sheer amount of land that could be impacted were all of the currently proposed projects in California’s desert area approved. The supervisor said he would also like to see the state turn more attention to facilitating the permitting process for other types of projects.

“To be honest, if the governor wants to streamline projects, the governor should also be streamlining public works projects,” he said.

Schwarzenegger will formally present his proposed budget to the state legislature Friday.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or asewell@desertdispatch.com

By the numbers

Renewable energy projects proposed in the California Desert District of the Bureau of Land Management:
• About 75 solar projects, covering about 648,000 acres of land
• About 100 wind generation projects, potentially covering more than 1 milllion acres
Source: San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt


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