A group of activists in San Diego's backcountry have launched an online petition seeking to block implementation of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which would potentially open up as many as 22 million acres of desert for renewable energy development in seven counties, including portions of San Diego.
Proponents of the plan's draft, which was released in September, say it could facilitate development of as much as 20,000 megawatts of power generation, roughly nine times as much as San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was producing before it was shuttered.
Plan authors say that they've also considered the environmental impacts that large-scale solar and wind-power projects would bring upon the land, stating that the plan "specifies species, ecosystem and climate adaptation requirements for 37 covered species and 31 natural communities, as well as the protection of recreation, cultural and other desert resources."
That may not be the case, according to petition author David Garmon, a Borrego Springs resident and president of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, which is backed by the Desert Protective Council and other local environmental groups.
"The [Desert Protective Council] disagrees with the premise of the [conservation plan], which is to continue expanding renewable energy development in our beleaguered California desert," says Terry Weiner, head of the council. "We are learning from the photovoltaic solar developments in Imperial County that the 'lake effect' of the panels from a bird’s-eye view has caused the death of over 150 species and thousands of individual birds."
The objective, say petition backers, is to force the California Energy Commission to look more closely at smaller rooftop solar projects in the cities where the energy will end up being used, rather than utility-scale projects in the desert that not only require development of open space but also rely on extensive transmission lines to move the power to where demand exists.
Garmon's petition claims, in part: “More renewable energy is available from rooftop solar in San Diego and Los Angeles Counties than will be derived from the siting of utility-scale generating facilities on 2 million acres of desert habitat called for in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. The unintended consequences of utility-scale facilities in the desert are becoming known and are unacceptable — dust storms in Lancaster, midair incineration of birds at Ivanpah, depletion of scarce groundwater in Borrego Springs.”
Not all environmental groups are onboard with the panning of the move to site clean power in the desert: the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Nature Conservancy have all signaled their support for the plan.
Public comments on the plan's 8000-page draft were recently extended to run through February 23, 2015.