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Officials pin hopes on Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

Conservation and energy company officials are hopeful that the as yet unpublished 8,000-page Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan will speed permitting times to allow for faster plant development and better protection of wildlife and plants.

The joint federal and state document is expected to be published in the Federal Register late this week, beginning a 90-day comment period on the road map for low carbon footprint energy development in California.

The DRECP plan involves about 22.5 million acres of federal and non-federal California desert land.

Today,Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will visit a wind farm in the Palm Springs area to celebrate this conservation milestone and to underscore the importance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for doubling down on the production of clean energy on public lands while protecting their natural resources.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a major component of California’s renewable energy planning efforts, will help provide effective protection and conservation of desert ecosystems while allowing for the appropriate development of renewable energy projects.

The plan is focused on the desert regions and adjacent lands of seven California counties – San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Riverside, Imperial, Inyo, Kern and San Diego.

The document is being prepared through what officials call an “unprecedented collaborative effort” between 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.

The plan is expected to provide “robust conservation efforts” for bighorn sheep, Mojave ground squirrels, desert tortoise, golden eagles and other species, said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The whole idea is to bring protection for a large suit of species,” Delfino said, during a teleconference with environmental reporters from around the state on Monday.

A mix of environmentalists and renewable energy companies were present at that teleconference.

Mark Tholke, vice president develop-west, EDF Renewables, said it’s his company’s hope that the DRECP will focus on streamlining the permitting process for the alternative fuel projects, provided they are built inside designated areas.

The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant, dedicated early this year – with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in attendance – is viewed by the environmental community as a tragic mistake.

The 3,500-acre plant, near the small northern San Bernardino County community of Nipton, was built on pristine land in prime desert tortoise habitat.

And its three 459-foot-tall towers, which concentrate sunlight, have fatally burned many birds with superheated air that radiates from its bright solar receiver.

“My great hope is that the DRECP will help us learn from some of the problems in the Ivanpah Valley,” Delfino said.

“Utility scale solar energy projects are not that well understood in terms of their total biological effects,” said Frank W. Davis, director, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara.

Davis too, said he hoped the DRECP would provide a mechanism to avoid these “unintended consequences.”