Environment & Science

Public input ends for renewable energy plans in the desert, but not happily

Johnson Valley is a small unincorporated community in San Bernardino County between the Victor Valley and Morongo Basin areas of the Mojave Desert.
Johnson Valley is a small unincorporated community in San Bernardino County between the Victor Valley and Morongo Basin areas of the Mojave Desert.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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State officials have been seeking public comment on a plan to focus renewable energy development on about 10 percent of southern California’s desert lands. That effort ends today, and so far, a lot of those comments are critical of the plan six years in the making.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan was unveiled last winter with praise from its architects, the California Energy Commission, federal and state fish and wildlife officials, and the federal Bureau of Land Management. They say the plan can offer protection to about 3,100 square miles of land while speeding up solar and wind development as much as 50 percent.

Solar companies say they don’t know whether the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan will actually speed up development. Conservation groups say they don’t know whether its ecosystem protections will be permanent.

Last month, conservation groups, including Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife, that have been longtime critics of the renewable energy lobby, joined together with wind and solar companies like Brightsource Energy and First Solar, in a letter to state and federal officials, saying that “it is extremely challenging to provide recommendations” to the plan under present circumstances. They argue the plan is being too complex, and they complain it lacks information about where transmission lines will go:

The extremely complex framework and confusing organization of the draft DRECP has made it exceedingly time consuming and difficult to comprehend even the most basic information necessary to understand the draft Plan… We believe that at a minimum the agencies will need to extend the comment period while further clarity is provided through meetings or workshops.

But on a recent visit, Federal interior Secretary Sally Jewell said critical comments are valuable – but the time for commenting must still end. “We want to continue to move,” she told reporters on scene.

Now the desert plan’s architects will take several months to respond to the comments – and put out a final plan later this year.