We’re no fans of red tape, and there are certainly times when hyper-regulation and onerous government restrictions stand in the way of progress. But there are also times when our system works the way it should – when elected officials and government agencies hear the voices of the people they serve. We believe the recent progress with the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation plan is an example of the latter.
The DRECP is a combined state and federal effort to designate some 22.5 million acres for renewable energy use, with roughly 12 million of those acres in San Bernardino County.
Faced with the prospect of seeing windmills and solar panels dominating their desert, local residents started to speak up. The Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative, a grassroots group formed in Apple Valley, has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the DRECP and has encouraged locals to comment on the plan. Elected officials, including 1st District Supervisor Robert Lovingood and Rep Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, have joined the effort.
Cook wrote U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last month requesting modifications to the plan and more time to develop it at the local level, while the county sent in a 56-page critique of the plan warning of potential impacts.
Even the Environmental Protection Agency chimed in recently, warning that the plan should pay more attention to the possible effects on water and air quality in the region.
The state and federal entities responsible for the DRECP – the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Energy Commission – announced last week that they will approach the plan in phases and will more carefully tailor it to each local area’s needs and concerns.
Our chief executives in Washington and Sacramento seem to want to step on the gas pedal when it comes to large-scale renewable energy, but the DRECP agencies and local elected officials are hitting the brakes and making sure to proceed with caution.
We’d like to see more of a focus on renewable energy in places that have already been disturbed or developed, and we think government should make it as easy as possible for homeowners to install solar panels on their rooftops. Taxpayer dollars would be better spent there than on huge subsidies for large-scale projects in previously undisturbed patches of desert.
We’d also like to see locals reap greater benefits from whatever projects are built here. Lovingood said in a statement last week that he wants to see a mechanism in place to give people near solar or wind farms cheaper electricity.
“If you live in the corn belt and you’re surrounded by corn fields, your price for corn is going to be very inexpensive. So it only seems fair that desert residents who bear the brunt of impacts from renewable energy projects should see a similar benefit,” Lovingood said.
There’s still work to do, and local residents must keep up the pressure on our government if we want to affect the outcome. But if we were living in a place like China, all of these projects would have been built by now. Let’s applaud those who’ve taken the time to raise their voices, and let’s appreciate those who appear to be listening.
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