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A new paper from The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization, suggests that land in California’s Mojave Desert, if used for the development of large-scale renewable energy projects such as solar farms, could provide for between 1.8 and seven times the amount of energy needed to meet the state’s goal of sourcing one-third of its energy demand from renewable sources by 2020.

In 2002, California set a goal of producing 20 percent of the state’s electricity demand from renewable sources by 2017, a goal that was bumped up to 2010 and exceeded by 2009. The new aim of 33 percent by 2020 was codified by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008.

“There is enough land to find workable solutions that support California’s renewable energy goals and provide for long-term protection of our plants and wildlife. Nearly 1.8 million acres of land that is ecologically degraded, but still flat, sunny and potentially suitable for development exists across the Mojave,” says Dick Cameron, a senior conservation planner with the Conservancy. “Using science and planning, we can find areas that are suitable for development and avoid unnecessary impacts on the desert. That, in turn, can reduce delays and costs of development.”

Such concerns have hampered existing proposals for renewable energy developments, such as a proposed project in the Imperial Valley that has met opposition from neighbors and other stakeholders (more lawsuits have been filed against the project since the linked article was published).

The Conservancy advocates selecting sites for potential renewable energy projects that will have low impact on a given region’s unique fauna and flora. They say the Mojave provides many opportunities to place minimally invasive energy developments. An expanded analysis is available here.

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