CA’s energy conservation blueprint

A walk across the flat lands of the Mojave Desert. (Photo: B. Christopher)

Imagine a day when California produces almost 100% of its energy from clean, renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal. How many lives would be saved as result of lower cancer and asthma rates? How would this help mitigate extreme weather events, public health risks, and economic problems from climate change? The benefits to California’s health would be enormous.

The good news is that California is leading the way. As a pragmatist, I know getting to 100% renewable energy won’t happen overnight. In order to reach our goal, our energy infrastructure will have to change.

Renewable energy in the California desert is an important tool in our state’s arsenal to create a clean energy future.

To make that change, we need to be smart about building our infrastructure. This includes substantial investments in distributed solar (think rooftops) and utility-scale projects on open lands (think solar farms). And in our approach, we can build clean energy and protect public lands that are California’s greatest asset.

A plan is about to be finalized that will speed up the process of bringing new clean energy online. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (commonly called the DRECP) is a strategy that will help conserve desert lands and plan for a clean energy future. It will provide permanent protection to the desert’s public lands while also identifying those areas where development of renewable energy will conflict least with natural or cultural values.

The DRECP will help California meet our short-term energy goals to produce half of our energy from renewable sources by 2030. Renewable energy in the California desert is an important tool in our state’s arsenal to create a clean energy future – it stands alongside our already extensive efforts in rooftop solar and energy efficiency. Instead of fracking, with its environmental destruction and corrosive public health risks, it’s time to turn the tide and focusing on developing renewable energy in our state.

At the same time, the Mojave Desert is also home to incredibly important ecosystems that must be protected.  The DRECP will specifically protect some of the California desert’s most breathtaking landscapes and remaining open spaces – lands like the Silurian Valley, Chuckwalla Bench, and the Amargosa River Basin – by designating them as National Conservation Lands. These lands are home to iconic species like the desert tortoise, Nelson’s bighorn sheep, and Joshua trees. Protecting the special lands in the California desert would provide a wide, connected safe-haven with enough space for wildlife to migrate and adapt in a future of rising temperatures.

A plan this important is bound to raise concerns and we have our own that we believe could be easily fixed.  One thing that could be improved is ensuring that all lands designated for conservation do not allow new mining. Otherwise, we believe that these conservation designations are much weaker than they could be otherwise.  The good news is that the Bureau of Land Management can lay out a plan to withdraw the special lands being conserved in the DRECP from future mining claims. These places are home to incredible species of plants and animals and deserve protection. If we’re setting them aside for conservation, let’s do the job right at the outset.

I encourage BLM to further strengthen this blueprint for California’s future by refining its conservation elements and pushing this plan over the finish line. With the DRECP finished, the Golden State will be one step closer to a clean energy future and a legacy of stunning open lands for future generations. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and the DRECP will help us reach our goals.

Ed’s Note: Daniel Jacobson is the state director of Environment California, a nonprofit advocacy group.

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