Sierra Club seeks help from environmentalists
Leaders from the regional branch of the Sierra Club made an unusual appeal Friday to environmental groups from the High Desert, asking for their cooperation and collaboration in planning for renewable energy projects in the Mojave.
The Sierra Club historically has operated on a preservationist platform, decrying land development in vulnerable habitats, such as the desert, but the message Friday from Carl Zichella, the group’s regional staff director, broke with that traditional view.
Zichella said roughly 110 square acres of the Mojave Desert could be developed for renewable energy projects, according to applications submitted to the Bureau of Land Management.
Zichella made the argument that environmental groups must work with major electricity generators and government and state agencies to get more renewable energy projects built in the western United States in order to reduce the amount of fossil fuels contributing to global warming.
“We need all the large-scale wind, solar and geothermal we can get,” he said.
During the meeting, billed as the Southern California Renewable Power Forum, Zichella said the idea is to get involved early in the process so that renewable energy projects can be built in appropriate locations. By meeting the increasing demand for electricity, the projects will block the construction of coal-burning power plants, he said.
Kenny Stein, a representative from FPL Energy, assured the audience that only a fraction of the amount of land they apply for is actually developed.
Rainer Aringhoff, of Solar Millenium LLC, said 15 percent less land is needed for solar projects in the High Desert compared to Palm Springs or Arizona because radiation is more intense there, due to the area’s high elevation.
Robin Maxwell, from the Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy, said wind farms, solar power plants and long-distance transmission lines would “wreak havoc on the Mohave Desert.”
“They are deciding what’s going to be sacrificed,” she said. “We are not just a desolate wasteland.”
The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council also said Friday that their representatives have been working with the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative, a group of industry stakeholders that includes the California Public Utilities Commission, a regulator over investor-owned utilities; the California Independent System Operator, which manages the movement of power over the state’s electrical grid; and the California Energy Commission, which oversees the siting of power plants.
Other public and privately held utilities also are involved.
The issue of stringing new transmission lines across the desert and putting up acres of solar arrays or wind turbines has become so emotionally charged, Sierra Club Senior Regional Representative Bill Corcoran laid out ground rules before the meeting, requesting members of the audience “all agree not to make personal attacks” and advising those present they were “not going to get into evaluating the merits of any plan.”
Several of the groups from San Bernardino County invited to attend the meeting have expressed opposition to a proposed route for a high-tension electrical transmission line, known as Green Path North, from Desert Hot Springs to Hesperia that would be built by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and would tap into solar, wind and geothermal energy sources.
The workshop was the first of a number of community meetings planned in Southern California, Zichella said.
By Lauren McSherry, Staff Writer
29 February 2008
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