California has already established itself as a leader in solar development, with ambitious rooftop solar programs, numerous large- and community-scale projects under construction, and many more in the permitting pipeline. With its world-class solar resources and forward-thinking requirement that 33% of the state’s energy come from renewable resources by 2020, that trend is likely to continue. California has great potential in its Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) as well – although the proposed Iron Mountain and Pisgah SEZs contain sensitive wildlife habitat and other natural and cultural resources that make them inappropriate for designation as SEZs, with the refinements detailed here the Riverside East and Imperial East SEZs are good areas for solar development. In addition to these SEZs, the BLM is moving forward with processes such as the West Chocolate Mountains renewables planning effort and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) which are identifying additional new priority development areas.
The BLM has committed to a zone-based approach to solar development on public lands, and through ongoing research we and our conservation partners have conducted on the proposed SEZs over the past two years, we have grown ever more confident in our assessment that solar projects built there can generate enough electricity from the sun to power millions of homes and businesses across the West with reduced environmental impacts. The Riverside East and Imperial East zones and additional zones to be designated going forward will make an excellent foundation on which to build a solar energy program for public lands in California.
Avoiding Conflicts, Controversy and Costly Delays
A key benefit of focusing on low-conflict SEZs for solar development is the opportunity to avoid sensitive wildlife habitat, wilderness quality lands and important cultural resources when selecting project sites. A project-by-project approach simply will not provide the predictability that developers, land managers, environmental groups and the public need to build a clean energy future at the pace and scale required. In addition, failing to focus on the most appropriate areas puts our natural heritage at risk, threatening key wildlife habitat and wildlands. For example, in California, ecologically inappropriate and economically risky areas that could potentially be left open for development if the BLM does not truly focus permitting and construction of solar projects in the SEZs include:
• Wilderness quality lands: over 90,000 acres, including beautiful areas such as the Cady Mountains, additions to the Death Valley National Park Wilderness, the Iron Mountain Citizens’ Proposed Wilderness Area and others;
• The Ivanpah Valley in California’s San Bernadino County and Nevada’s Clark County is an important and sensitive ecosystem. Factors that make this area inappropriate for development include:
- Rich in diverse plant and animal life, including a healthy population of desert tortoises, rare plant species, several rare bat species, the elusive and rare Gila monster, rare bird species including golden eagles, and Desert Bighorn Sheep that traverse the valley when migrating among the surrounding mountain peaks;
- Vulnerability to loss of scarce groundwater, which could draw down water tables and harm wildlife;
- Potential adverse impacts on the adjacent Mojave National Preserve. Among the likely consequences would be loss of scenic views, diversion of water from the preserve and obstruction of a wildlife corridor that allows wildlife to move between the preserve and other protected areas; and
- Presence of areas sacred to Native Americans.
Smart Solar – Focusing on Low-Conflict Zones to Promote California’s Economy, Protect Wildlands and Build a Clean Energy Future
- Increase economic opportunities by generating tax revenue, creating green jobs during project construction and operations and developing a market for associated service industries;
- Help meet state renewable energy standard – California has a requirement that 33% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2020, the highest such standard in the nation;
- Protect sensitive lands and the wildlife they support by ensuring development only occurs in appropriate areas; and
- Provide clean power to reduce carbon emissions and help preserve and protect wildlands, wildlife, water supplies and communities across America and around the globe.