Am I Advocating Sensible Policy or NIMBYism?

I received a thoughtful response to my previous blog post from Ken.  I'm copying the comment and my response below, because I think Ken's questions helped me think more critically about my position on utility-scale solar proposed for California's deserts.  I have noted before on this blog that I do not expect there to be absolutely no development in the Mojave Desert.  This is not a "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) scenario.  The point is to encourage sensible land management in policy that balances the various demands we have for natural resources.  Unfortunately, it is not sensible policy to expect that California's deserts can meet all of our energy needs...

From Ken:
What are your solutions? It is easy to point out environmental shortcomings of any specific method of producing the energy civilization consumes. It is much harder to come up with viable solutions.

I'm not advocating for or against this project, I'm just advocating for everyone to work together to find real solutions and I want people to realize that we all need to share in the costs of generating the energy we consume.

Is this project really worse than mountain top removal in West Virginia in order to get to thin veins of coal? Is this project worse than the tar sands projects in Canada? Is this project worse the environmental destruction wrought by offshore oil platforms exploding and spewing oil into our oceans for months before being capped?

Without a doubt, the best solution is to reduce the amount of energy we consume in the first place, but the reality is no matter how much we reduce our usage, we'll still need energy. We need to find the most sustainable means of producing the energy we need and we all need to share in ALL the costs associated with producing it. Saying "not in my back yard" while consuming energy that destroys someone else's back yard is unconscionable.
My Response:

Thank you for the taking the time to comment. I do believe that the cumulative impact of renewable energy development in the Mojave can be more destructive than oil drilling or mountain-top removal. If dozens of large scale projects are approved, the total effect will essentially be the death of an entire ecosystem. It's a fragile ecosystem that is already under threat from poor land management policy.

I agree that there is an acceptable solution that we spread the costs of producing renewable energy.  I mentioned a couple possible solutions in my previous blog post -- roof top solar or utility-scale solar sited on disturbed land.  Two projects recently approved deserve recognition for avoiding pristine habitat -- Beacon Solar and Abengoa Solar, since they are located on former agricultural land.

I agree that saying "not in my backyard" while other forms of energy -- coal or oil-- destroy someone else's backyard is unconscionable. But shifting the destruction to another area is short-sighted, and wrapping that destruction in "green" rhetoric is deceitful.  That very deceit has clouded America's ability to properly assess the pros and cons of solar energy sited in California's deserts.  People see images of solar power projects and assume it is free of cost, just as Americans were enamored with the construction of canals and dams for decades, not realizing the true cost of those projects until later.

This really is not a question of NIMBY ("not in my backyard").  Utility scale solar will require around 600 square miles of land to fulfill all of the State's energy needs.  This is not an isolated project in a single small town.  This is the beginning of a policy position that will impact entire landscapes and cause irreparable environmental damage.

I am for renewable energy, and I understand that some projects will impact desert habitat.  But we need to be honest with ourselves -- utility scale solar is not all "green" and we need to start siting solar on our rooftops, and acting more seriously to reduce energy usage if we're serious about changing the paradigm.  Otherwise it's the same story, just a different location.


  1. Excellent points.

    We need a nationwide Energy Plan or Policy. Right now solar energy is a free-for-all, a gold rush. There is no plan.

    1. What are our Renewable Energy resources?

    2. Where are they located?

    3. Do we need the electricity? California's energy consumption has gone down according to CEC.

    4. If not, are we prepared to close fossil fuel plants to go renewable?

    5.  If we are going to build them, perform resource planning where to site specific technologies, look at environmental concerns, plan transmission capacity, and integrate inside the state and with other states.

    6.  What will be the cost for different scenarios, and to the rate-payer and taxpayer?



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