Next few months will be critical for renewable energy and land protection in the California desert

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California's Mojave Desert.

Howard Ignatius, Flickr

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) will balance much-needed clean energy development with conservation needs to protect the California desert and other areas across the west.

For years there has been a growing demand on public lands in California and other parts of the west to support clean sources of energy like wind and solar power. It is important to drive those projects to places where they will have the smallest impact on the land and the greatest chance at success.

With wind and solar development happening quickly, we have learned a lot about the need to guide large scale projects away from lands unsuitable for development. These lessons—combined with years of data collection and public input—have led to local, state and federal government agencies working together to balance clean energy development with conservation needs. That hard work recently culminated in the release of a draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).

The DRECP has the potential to protect millions of acres of land in the California desert region that are home to cultural and historic artifacts, recreation areas, wildlife habitat or migration paths, wild-undisturbed lands or other special values worth conserving. The plan also has the potential to create more certainty for the future of the clean energy industry by identifying additional lands that could be suitable for development.

The long awaited DRECP is not only important for California, it could serve as a model for other western states as well and will have lasting impacts on lands that draw visitors to the California desert from near and far.

At first glance, what will the plan do?
The DRECP is designed to manage more than 22 million acres of California desert lands for both conservation and renewable energy development. The plan uses the best available science to help guide projects away from lands with high value for conservation, wildlife or recreation.

What does the plan mean for the future of conservation?
Conserving lands in the California desert is one of The Wilderness Society’s highest priorities. The draft plan proposes protecting areas like the Chuckwalla Bench, Panamint Valley and Upper McCoy Wash be set aside for uses other than renewable energy development, including recreation and conservation. The fate of other areas, like Silurian Valley, remains uncertain. The plan will also provide a framework for protection of sensitive wildlife and plant species like the desert tortoise and woodlands of Palo Verde and Ironwood trees in the face of climate change.

What does the plan mean for the future of renewable energy?
Expanding our nation’s ability to develop clean sources of energy is not only critical for national security, this energy would replace dirty fossil fuels like oil and coal to help in the fight against climate change. California leads the nation in its commitment to increase the use of renewable energy, and the DRECP identifies additional lands that can be prescreened for suitable energy development. The plan should provide more a predictable process for permitting renewable energy projects and help California and the nation meet our climate change goals.

What’s next?
Now the agencies want to hear from all of us. We will be analyzing the plan—its proposed conservation areas and its plans for development—and developing recommendations for making it better. Between now and January 9 there will public workshops. You can submit written comments and even use a new tool to make comments on proposed maps. Now is the time to join the conversation. Help improve this important plan and protect our desert treasures.