The California deserts — the Mojave, Colorado and Great Basin — are prime habitat for a suite of rare and endangered species adapted to survive in these sun-drenched, windy wildlands. The iconic desert tortoise is just one of the many species that survives in the vast landscape these deserts comprise, which includes the most ecologically intact landscapes remaining in the lower 48 states.
California recently stepped up its renewable energy goal: to generate 50 percent of the state's electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 in order to transition off of climate-disrupting fossil fuels to avoid the worst effects of climate change — a transition that must happen quickly.
Because California's beautiful deserts have abundant sunshine and good wind resources, there is great interest in building large-scale, centralized renewable energy projects in its deserts landscapes, which also lie within a few hundred miles of the largest electrical load center in the state: the greater Southern California area, with more than 22 million residents.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, or DRECP, is an ambitious undertaking that is envisioned to both protect irreplaceable desert habitats, plants, animals and ecological processes and allow for the development of a significant amount of centralized renewable energy (from solar, wind and geothermal facilities, which will also require transmission lines) by focusing on areas with the least ecological impact.
SPECIFICS OF THE DRECP
+ What is the DRECP?
The DRECP is a landscape-scale, multi-agency, joint plan. Though its goal is to identify desert lands where renewable-energy facilities can be built with the least ecological impact, if finalized and adopted, the plan would still allow them to have some effects on rare plants and animals (what the plan calls “covered species”) in exchange for conserving those species and their habitats elsewhere in the California deserts.
The DRECP is composed of three parts:
+ How big is it?
The DRECP covers 22.5 million acres of public and private lands in California's deserts. See map of the "preferred alternative" from the draft DRECP.
+ Which agencies are planning it?
This planning effort is led by the California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management, with cooperation from the California State Lands Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission. Impacts on imperiled species under the plan would also need to be approved and authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. County “general plans” would also be key to its implementation.
+ How many animals and plants would be protected under the DRECP as "covered species"?
The plan will affect 37 total species, each of which it will also attempt to protect from impacts using mitigation. These "covered species" consist of 27 animals and 10 plants.
+ How much energy would be produced?
This plan would result in the production of 20,000 megawatts of energy — enough to ultimately power 4–5 million houses.
How much of the desert could be developed?
Approximately 250,000 acres would be developed, across an area spanning more than 2 million acres of public and private land.
+ How much of the desert may be protected?
Thanks to the Center's work and that of our conservation allies over the last two decades, more than 6 million acres of the California deserts are currently protected, including as national parks and wilderness, as well as almost four million acres of critical environmental concern and desert wildlife management areas designated to protect desert tortoises, flat-tailed horned lizards, Mojave fringe-toed lizards and many other rare desert plants and animals.
The Center is advocating to ensure that all conservation put in place to offset the impacts of centralized renewable energy on rare species and their habitat must be additive. Specifically, we're pushing for increasing the range of protections for many of these areas, as well as increasing the number of protected lands for imperiled species. With better planning for renewable energy development on public and private lands in the California deserts, the DRECP should be able to help minimize impacts to species and reduce the need for additional conservation commitments.
+ How long will the plan stay in place?
The plan is proposed to last 25 years. Because desert lands are fragile and take thousands of years to recover, effective conservation needs to be put in place for the long-term — in perpetuity.
Learn about some of the rare species and beautiful landscapes that affected by the DRECP.
Learn about how the Bureau of Land Management is now proceeding with the DRECP in its "Phase 1."