Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NPCA Warns of Unnecessary Desert Destruction

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a report warning about the "solar energy tsunami" heading for America's southwestern deserts, referring to plans by energy companies to destroy hundreds of square miles of intact desert ecosystems for industrial-scale solar facilities.  In discussing the report and accompanying video, NPCA California Desert senior program manager urges a more innovative clean energy path that does not force America to lose natural and cultural treasures in desert landscapes:
"I think that part of the message we want to share today is that we do want to encourage both the public and the administration to stand strong in support of national parks. We recognize that it's really important to forward our solar future, but we think that can best be accomplished by a diversified portfolio where we're looking at options like not just roof-top solar, but also looking at development on disturbed lands." -- David Lamfrom, NPCA, quoted in National Parks Traveler
The video released with the report shows many beautiful scenes from across America's deserts, but also some of the destruction caused by BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, which is being built right next to the Mojave National Preserve, and is responsible for displacing or killing over 150 desert tortoises.


The report takes a fairly in-depth look at some of the solar projects already under construction on desert habitat, including the BrightSource Ivanpah project and First Solar's Desert Sunlight project.  NPCA acknowledges that some energy companies make adjustments to the project in an attempt to reduce the footprint and environmental impact of the massive facilities.  In the case study on First Solar, NPCA notes that the company changed the project footprint to avoid higher quality desert tortoise habitat, but points out that the project size and location still blocks wildlife connectivity and degrades the visual beauty of the desert landscape.

Under the assumption that industrial scale solar on public lands will continue to be a problem for our deserts, the NPCA advises that the BLM should at least view the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service as equal partners in the renewable energy permitting process (I agree that industrial-scale solar will continue to be a problem, but I do think it is an unnecessary one!).  The NPCA report also notes that the Department of Interior should focus on minimizing impacts on threatened wildlife and document landscape connectivity, to ensure sustainable ecosystems and a more holistic stewardship of our lands.  BLM's Solar Energy Development program should not allow industrialization on "variance lands," a key weakness of the proposed BLM policy that has been criticized by other citizen and conservation groups, as well.

I am glad NPCA is bringing attention to what is at stake in our deserts, and advocating for a wiser approach.   If you want more details regarding the pending projects, I have embedded a PDF doc with some of the solar projects proposed for public lands (mostly intact desert wildlands) in the southwest.  Keep in mind this does not include proposed wind energy projects, which would industrialize even more of our public lands with thousands of wind turbines, each standing over 400 feet high.
BLM Solar Apps and Auths 2012

1 comment:

  1. Another very informative and well documented post about renewable energy development in the deserts.

    I recommend to other readers that you look at all the links and especially the charts above as well as the actual reports over at NPCA's site. After you watch the video of course.

    ReplyDelete