In March 2015 — shortly after the close of the public comment period on the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) — the federal government announced that the Bureau of Land Management would move ahead with the plan on federal public lands, calling this portion of the DRECP “Phase 1” — while the plan would proceed on a slower track on state lands and private lands. The BLM intends to adopt a plan for development of large, centralized, utility-scale wind and solar projects, as well as set aside lands for conservation on the almost 11 million acres of federal lands in its “land-use plan amendments” for the DRECP.
The public lands managed by the BLM and affected by the DRECP land-use plan amendments include the California Desert Conservation Area and parts of the Bishop Resource Area (in Inyo County) and the Bakersfield Resource Area (in the Tehachapi Mountains and the Southern Sierras in Kern County). The BLM’s land-use plan amendments set the stage for coordinated plans for renewable-energy development also being pursued for private lands by local county governments and by state agencies.
Final Land-use Plan Amendments
In November 2015 the BLM released its final land-use plan amendments for federal public lands. These amendments propose 388,000 acres to be available for utility-scale renewable energy development.
The good news is that the plans incorporate numerous areas that the Center has identified as potentially having low environmental conflicts with renewable energy development. The amendments also removed from consideration several areas that are important for wildlife habitat that should not be developed. Finally, an additional 700,000 to 800,000 acres were designated for conservation and will protect habitat for desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and other imperiled plants and animals.
However, the final plan still needs to be improved in several important ways. The Center submitted a protest letter to the Bureau of Land Management on the proposed land-use plan amendments, raising several issues of concern, including the following. The plan amendments:
The Center strongly supports the development of renewable energy production to facilitate a rapid phaseout of fossil fuel energy, and we believe the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan can play an important role if renewable energy development is planned for already degraded areas to minimize impacts on the environment and ensure protection of sensitive species and their habitats. But the BLM’s land-use plan amendments still need significant work to achieve the goals of the overarching DRECP as envisioned by the state and local governments.