By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California and the federal government on Tuesday released an ambitious plan to accelerate the building of large renewable energy projects in the state’s sun soaked desert while setting aside millions of acres for conservation in its latest bid to combat climate change.
The goal of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is to identify areas ripe with renewable energy potential that would also have minimal impact on species like the desert tortoise.
The plan hopes to spur the development of up to 20,000 MW of power from renewable energy sources like solar and wind over the next 25 years, which would more than double California’s current level of renewable energy production.
That would help the state meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by midcentury. It follows recent efforts approved by Governor Jerry Brown to encourage the consumers to buy low-emission electric cars and to expand its carbon cap-and-trade program into Quebec.
The plan would also create a reserve of protected lands covering more than 22 million acres of desert land in Southern California, most of it owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service the U.S. Department of Defense and private landowners.
“Never before has the federal government and a state government collaborated on creating a vision for how to achieve this level of clean energy development while also providing for the lasting protection of species and ecosystems,” said Laura Crane, director of the California Renewable Energy Initiative for the Nature Conservancy.
Crane said the plan puts California in a leadership role and has the potential to influence other states and countries.
A year and a half ago, her group hosted government officials from Mongolia on a tour of California’s Mojave Desert, and said they were interested in learning how to balance renewable energy development and protection of species, groundwater and ecosystem function.
“They are watching our effort as they think about mining and renewable energy development in their own country,” she said.
The draft plan released on Tuesday still has a long way to go before it is approved, which is not expected until 2016. A 106-day public comment period on the draft kicks off on Friday.
California’s deserts are home to Native American tribes and people in desert communities and also serve as important training locations for the U.S. military, all of which have their own perspectives on the blueprint.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Diane Craft)