Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How to Do Renewable Energy in the Mojave Desert

The utopian view of our renewable energy future is all rooftop solar and backyard windmills. There's nothing wrong with rooftop solar, of course, I have my own solar panels and you should too. But moving the U.S. to the zero-carbon economy is going to take more than that. There are going to have to be big, ugly, industrial renewable energy facilities as well.

That brings us to the emerging clashes between environmentalists and renewable energy advocates. My friends have trouble understanding when I tell them that the fight against global warming is not really part of the environmental movement. I want wind farms off the coast of California; many environmentalists are as opposed to wind farms off the coast as they would be to oil derricks.

My friends have trouble understanding when I tell them that the fight against global warming is not really part of the environmental movement. But it's true, and as California now moves to achieve the goal of generating half our electricity from renewable energy, the difference between them is going to be more and more obvious.

Environmentalists, or at least one powerful faction of environmentalists, are concerned to protect nature and wilderness from development. To these kinds of environmentalists, wind turbines off the California coast are just as bad as oil derricks because both of them are an industrial intrusion into a pristine natural setting. We're seeing this fight heating up right now over the proposed Morro Bay wind farm.

We've seen the same kind of fights erupt over solar/wind developments in the Mojave Desert, but now the Obama administration has done something so mind-boggingly full of common sense that you have to just stand and gape in admiration.

Traditionally, if someone wants to build some energy project on Federal land, they have to go through the complicated and expensive process of applying for a permit before the Interior Department even begins to consider whether or not they think you should be allowed to build on the site that you want. Interior's consideration includes allowing environmentalists to weight in, of course.

But Obama told the Interior Department to just go ahead, without waiting for applications, and figure out which parts of the Mojave are most and least suitable for renewable energy developments. Interior has now completed their assessment and potential developers now know, ahead of time, which areas will meet with little or no resistance to development. Hurray for common sense!

And hurray for all of us because, even though the environmental movement and climate hawk movements are not the same thing, the fact is that most environmentalists are extremely concerned about global warming and most climate hawks also care about the environment. I'll sacrifice the California coastline and Mojave Desert both if that's what's required to stop global warming. But I don't want to do it if I don't have to. So kudos to the Obama administration for getting proactive about figuring out how to achieve both of those goals.

Here's the link to Climate Desk's article about the Department of Interior study.

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