Brown favors renewable energy project over conservation in Mojave Desert

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Some of the 24,000 mirrors called 'heliostats' at the eSolar Sierra SunTower power plant in Lancaster, California in the Mojave Desert approximately 70 miles (110 km) north of Los Angeles May 12, 2011.

Governor Jerry Brown has weighed in on a contested solar energy project in the Mojave Desert. The legal brief he's filed is likely to satisfy renewable energy advocates, but probably won't make conservationists happy.

The legal dispute concerns the Ivanpah project, a 370-megawatt solar thermal energy facility that the company Brightsource hopes to have up and running within two years. The federal Interior Department has fast-tracked environmental review for the site, near the California-Nevada border.

The Western Watersheds Project sued in federal court six months ago to block it. That environmental group argues Ivanpah will harm desert tortoises, golden eagles and other natural resources the state and the federal government must conserve.

But the state of California disagrees. In a brief that sides with the federal government, Attorney General Kamala Harris argues that it's in the state's best interest to let the project go forward without delay.

The brief points out that Ivanpah will create 1,000 construction jobs and will feed electricity to 140,000 California homes. The Western Watersheds Project will argue to halt the project while the case continues later this summer.

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