Nevada Ballot Measure a Catch-22 for the Mojave

"As we focus on climate change, we must also act decisively to protect the living world while we still have time. It would be humanity’s ultimate achievement." - E.O. Wilson
Nevada is poised to vote on whether to increase its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) - the share of electricity required to come from renewable sources - to 50% by the year 2030, without any plan for protecting Nevada's increasingly vulnerable wildlands. An increased RPS without corresponding plans to protect wildlands is sure to spur a second rush of solar and wind projects, but continuing to burn fossil fuels will compound the ongoing harmful effects of climate change on that same landscape.  A more sensible path - providing stronger incentives for solar on rooftops and over parking lots and diverting larger projects to already-disturbed lands - has eluded the state's policymakers and environmental groups. 
This Joshua tree woodland in southern Nevada would be transformed into an industrial zone if Eolus wind secures a power purchase agreement to supply electricity to Nevada.  It is proposing to install over 200 wind turbines in this intact desert wildland, and has openly backed Question 6.

The ballot measure - Question 6 - will essentially authorize Nevada's utility company to purchase much more electricity from developers of giant solar and wind energy projects.  In Nevada, many of those projects are likely to be built on public lands hosting intact desert habitat.  There are several solar and wind projects expected to receive a rubber-stamp approval from the Department of Interior in the next couple of years, and they would be most likely to enter into contracts with the utility, NV Energy.   In fact, the energy companies proposing to bulldoze Nevada's desert wildlands for these projects are actively campaigning in support of Question 6.

Multiple environmental groups are also campaigning for the measure, including the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity.  Pushing for more clean energy makes sense given the need to transition quickly to a fossil fuel-free future to spare wildlife.   However, some groups have been silent or have actually supported ill-sited solar and wind projects.   A common refrain from national environmental organizations is that sacrificing a portion of our desert wildlands is necessary to combat climate change, and that fighting for policies that prioritize rooftop solar and other sustainable solutions is a steeper uphill battle.
The Gemini Solar project would destroy nearly 11 square miles of intact desert wildlands adjacent to Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada.

But lost in the argument is the fact the study after study shows that preserving remaining habitat is one of the most important things we can do to enable wildlife to survive not only climate change but a host of other human-caused and natural disasters.  No matter how soon we make the transition to clean energy, the impacts of climate change will be long-livedA clean energy path that involves the mass destruction of wildlife habitat with little or no landscape-level planning is a foolish approach. 

If Nevadans do not step up for truly sustainable energy options - rooftop solar, energy efficiency investments, and solar on already-disturbed lands - Question 6 will essentially be a vote for bulldozing some of our prized wildlands.  This doesn't mean we have to back away from renewable energy.  It does mean that we need to step up for smarter energy policy, and for protecting our desert wildlands.

Our technology allows us to generate clean energy without bulldozing pristine wildlands.


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