California opens up public land for renewable energy generation


California is set to open up vast tracts of public desert land for renewable energy projects.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the California Natural Resources Agency joined forces to develop and the ambitious Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) plan, which would pave the way for renewable energy development and conservation on some 10 million acres (4 million hectares) of federal public lands in the California desert managed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the California desert.

Announcing the plan on Tuesday alongside California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “Using a landscape-level perspective, unprecedented collaboration and extensive public engagement, this phase of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan will facilitate clean energy development, creating new jobs while cutting carbon pollution. Jewell added that the strategy provided effective protection and conservation for wildlife, recreation and cultural resources, “while encouraging streamlined renewable energy development in the right places.”

The plan, which has undergone its final environmental review, “allows conservation, recreation and renewable energy development to fit together in a durable, balanced way,” Laird added.

The blueprint is part of a larger, comprehensive effort in California covering 22 million acres (8.9 million hectares) in the state’s desert region. According to the BLM, these lands collectively contain the potential to generate up to 20 GW of renewable energy development and go a long way in meeting federal and state renewable energy and climate change goals through 2040.

Phase I of the DRECP, which is managed by the BLM, designates development focus areas with high-quality solar, wind and geothermal energy potential, access to transmission and will allow impacts to be managed and mitigated. Applications will benefit from a streamlined permitting process with predictable survey requirements and simplified mitigation measures, the BLM said, adding that the Interior Department was also considering additional financial incentives through an ongoing rule-making process.

The first phase will also designates areas of critical environmental concern, wildlife allocations and national scenic and historic trail management corridors to conserve biological, cultural and other values as well as recreational areas and public access. “These lands would be closed to renewable energy and benefit from adaptive management in the face of climate change,” the department said.

“The plan released today will advance state and federal conservation goals in the desert regions of California while facilitating the timely permitting of renewable energy projects in appropriate areas,” said Neil Kornze, director of the Bureau of Land Management. “A vision for the desert, the DRECP represents an excellent example of collaboration among federal and state partners.”

The non-federal land component of the DRECP, Phase II, is ongoing, led by California and includes close coordination among federal, state, county and private land partners.

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