San Bernardino County supervisors and their High Desert constituents agreed that residents need to be much more involved in a multi-agency effort to identify which parts of the desert should be developed with renewable energy and which should be set aside for wildlife and other natural resources.
During a supervisors’ study session Tuesday, April 16, about 50 people in the audience applauded when Supervisor Robert Lovingood said that meetings on the seven-county Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, known as the DRECP, held in Ontario are not reaching the people who would live near the big solar and wind energy projects.
Supervisor James Ramos, whose district includes parts of the desert, said that about half of the 22.5 million acres covered by the plan are in San Bernardino County. The plan would especially affect Lucerne Valley and other desert communities, including Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, he said.
“We need to have a dialogue in those areas,” Ramos said. “We have to take the message to the affected communities.”
Chris Beale, the DRECP assistant director, said he got the message and would try to have future meetings and workshops in the desert communities.
In addition to San Bernardino County, the plan involves Riverside, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego counties, as well as the California Energy Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A draft map identifying energy development and wildlife conservation areas is expected to be made public before the end of this year. It will then be subject to environmental reviews.
Several desert residents said that, although renewable energy is needed to fight climate change, developing unspoiled landscapes is the wrong approach.
David Fick, a longtime Joshua Tree resident, said that solar panels should be installed on the rooftops of hundreds of warehouses in Ontario and other Inland communities before exploiting the desert.
Margaret Adam lives in Flamingo Heights, a small community near Yucca Valley. She said the BrightSource Energy Co. solar project, under construction in northeast San Bernardino County near Primm, Nevada, has been a disaster for desert tortoises because of an expedited environmental review process.
Prime wildlife habitat doesn’t have to be developed for renewable energy, said Adam, a wildlife biologist.
“We have to use all rooftops, all our parking lots and all our brownfields before we use anything else,” Adam said.
Other residents said they moved to the desert for a quieter, healthier life closer to natured. Big-energy developments is the kind of industry they had hoped to escape, they said.
Ashley Richmond, of the California Wind Energy Association, said the California desert offers tremendous resources for clean wind energy. The industry is working to identify potential wind farm locations that would have minimal effects on bird life and military radar systems.
Wind development does less damage to desert terrain than other kinds of energy development and offers good job opportunities, she said.
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