Will this plan really help the desert?

Guest Blogger David Garmon is a long-time ABF member and President of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC). ABF and TCDC collaborate on many projects including Sahara Mustard/invasive species removal, the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council and various projects like the one below to advocate on behalf of Park wilderness.

The 8000-page Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) published in September represents the culmination of 5 years of work by state and federal agencies, county governments, and NGO’s as they try to chart California’s move toward relying on more renewable energy sources. 

The Plan covers 22.5 million acres in southern California, 260,000 of which are in San Diego County. Out of the 22.5 million acres of the Plan, about 2 million are identified as “Development Focus Areas” (DFA).  It is in these DFA’s that the Plan proposes to site 200,000 to 400,000 acres worth of utility-scale generating facilities that will use solar, wind, or geothermal energy to make electricity.

At first glance, all this would seem to be a good plan. The overwhelming majority of knowledgeable observers understand the urgency of moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. And what could be better than using the abundant sun and wind of our deserts to make this move?

Closer scrutiny, however, demonstrates there are serious drawbacks to the plan as currently written, mostly in the form of unintended consequences. These problems range from dust storms arising from disturbed desert terrain to excessive use of precious, declining groundwater. From the unexpected “taking” of endangered bird species mistaking acres of mirrors for lakes to wind and solar facilities not producing the amount of energy promised in the planning stages. And with all energy generated in eastern California, there is the loss of energy that occurs when it is carried to the coast through massive transmission lines.

One of the largest oversights of the DRECP is that it did not even do a detailed analysis of rooftop solar as a possible alternative in California’s search for renewable energy. A study by UCLA’s Luskin Center published in July indicates rooftops in LA and San Diego would produce much more renewable energy than the 20,000 megawatts projected to be created under the DRECP.

The chief advantages of rooftop solar are that it would avoid the unintended environmental consequences of the DRECP, and it would avoid the wasting of energy that occurs when it has to be transported over 100’s of miles of transmission lines.

I hope you will join us today by signing our petition asking the California Energy Commission not to dismiss rooftop solar out of hand, but rather to perform a detailed analysis of this technology, evaluating it on the basis of cost, capacity, and environmental impact.

David Garmon,
President, Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy