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A recent flurry of solar projects proposed in the California desert has caused great concern for many CNPS members.  CNPS, at the State level, is working towards understanding and responding to these projects in a systematic and professional level.  We at the East Bay Chapter are offering our insights and support as State CNPS takes on this issue.  EBCNPS has been discussing this issue on listserves and at the monthly board meetings.

Below is an excerpt from the CNPS website.

creosote and sky

DESERT – Solar Energy Development

Background:

The California Deserts (Mojave and Colorado) are unique and fascinating places, with many plant species that are found nowhere else on the planet (endemic species). Recently, the flood of applications for solar energy projects on public lands in the California desert have prompted CNPS to take on a significant role in helping to create a responsible siting process that emphasizes the protection of pristine public lands – home to many rare species of California native plants and wildlife.

Renewable energy development in California is moving forward, although not as quickly as solar and wind development companies would like. America needs to convert to renewable energy sources rapidly and prudently. Utility-scale renewable energy generation will be part of the solution. However, community-based renewable energy generation and distribution, and energy conservation will also be part of the solution. Advocating for distributed renewable energy and energy conservation can help reduce impacts to California’s desert flora by moving the current focus on renewable resources beyond utility-scale generation. What’s more, we cannot and must not endorse the siting of utility-scale renewable energy projects on pristine desert lands as the first option, especially when already-disturbed alternative sites have been identified.

After nearly two years spent obtaining entitlements to build sites on public lands (a BLM Right of Way), to hook up to the grid (getting in the Independent System Operator, or ISO queue), and to ensure they have a utility agency willing to buy their electrons (a Power Purchasing Agreement, or PPA), the first utility-scale renewable energy project applicants are finding the environmental review and permitting stage a significant hurdle. Applicants proposing projects on BLM land can receive significant reimbursement of project development costs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act if they begin construction by December, 2010. State and federal agencies reviewing applications are under great pressure from the applicants, from the Governor in Sacramento, and from the Secretary of the Interior in Washington D.C. to move these projects through the permitting stage in order to meet ambitious state and federal goals for renewable energy development.

Current Status:

CNPS volunteers and staff are closely monitoring the numerous proposals for renewable energy projects on public lands in the desert. While supportive of renewable energy, CNPS remains concerned about the impacts of these projects on rare plants, vegetation and wildlife in the desert.

You can help by writing a letter to your local newspaper, State Legislative representative, your Congressional Representative, and Senators Feinstein and Boxer about your concerns. You can use the template letter posted below. If you write your own letter, make sure to emphasize that:

  1. CNPS supports renewable energy generation in California, but
  2. a reasonable siting process that protects sensitive plant and biological resources needs to be developed for large scale energy projects before applications are accepted, and
  3. distributed “rooftop” energy and energy conservation need to play a greater role in the renewable energy equation.

Here’s the entire website with more information.

Mojave desert creosote scrub vegetation

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