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Deserts vs. Big Solar

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Power plants that run on solar energy instead of coal sound like a no-brainer. But in a growing debate that pits habitat conservation against technological innovation, some environmentalists are warning that utility-scale solar plants on public lands will harm sensitive ecoystems. So are solar plants in the desert the answer to our energy woes? The Solar Energy Industries Association says they’re the quickest way to get us off fossil fuels. The Wildlands Conservancy thinks we should be looking at rooftops first.

Solar Belongs on Rooftops

by David Myers

David Myers has spent 33 years as the head of various California land conservation organizations. For the past 16 years, he has been the Executive Director of The Wildlands Conservancy, which owns California’s largest nonprofit preserve system.

The Bush administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 resulted in proposals for solar and wind projects on 1.6 million acres of pristine public land in the California desert. This created a solar land rush in which companies sold public land application portfolios for hundreds of millions of dollars. When they found their applications hamstrung by endangered species laws, some energy companies, unfamiliar with federal and state environmental regulations, criticized the grassroots environmental community for holding up clean energy projects. The press sensationalized this conflict as a “Green versus Green” battle.

The media might have overblown the issue, but The Wildlands Conservancy was in fact shocked when a national environmental group took the position that we had to open desert lands for large-scale solar, the same lands that environmentalists had worked so hard to protect in the past. This is, in our opinion, nonsense. There’s no need to sacrifice unique habitats for utility-scale reneweable energy – especially when there are so many other already degraded sites that could be used instead. …more…

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