By Senator Dianne Feinstein
Originally published in the Riverside Press-Enterprise
As America’s environmental innovator, California demonstrates that conserving natural resources and developing clean energy sources can coexist.
That is the reason California set the goal of generating 33 percent of its electricity by 2020 from renewable resources such as wind and solar energy. It is also the reason Los Angeles committed to phasing out coal-fired electrical power over the next 12 years.
That kind of forward thinking should extend into other areas, including how we use California’s deserts for energy development.
There is strong support in California to protect pristine desert areas. There is also strong support for the responsible development of renewable energy projects.
I believe those two goals can exist side-by-side by focusing energy development on suitable sites such as military bases and disturbed private land while protecting unspoiled desert landscapes.
The Mojave Desert is home to majestic mountains and spectacular valleys, towering sand dunes and stunning oases, all of which provide habitat for diverse plants and wildlife.
These beautiful vistas are home to remarkable archaeology, beauty and wildlife. One can find some of the last remaining dinosaur tracks, Native American petroglyphs, abundant spring wildflowers and threatened species including the bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise, which can live to be 100 years old.
But the western edge of the Mojave — 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles — is also home to Edwards Air Force Base and other developed lands.
In 2009, I learned the Bureau of Land Management was accepting applications to build solar and wind projects on federal land throughout the Mojave Desert, including pristine lands donated for conservation purposes in the East Mojave. I acted quickly to prevent this type of development, introducing legislation to establish the Mojave Trails National Monument in the eastern Mojave.
But I also obtained federal funding to study the feasibility of generating renewable energy on military installations in California’s deserts in a manner consistent with both environmental protection and the military mission.
The study, conducted by the Department of Defense and released in January 2012, concluded: “Over 7,000 megawatts of solar energy development is technically feasible and financially viable at several Department of Defense installations in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of California.”
The report found that “Edwards Air Force Base had the highest solar potential of the military installations studied.” Of the 7,164 megawatts of potential solar capacity at military installations in the California deserts, the base accounts for 3,488 megawatts (49 percent) of the total. Of 125,507 economically viable acres for solar photovoltaic ground development, the base contains 92,009 acres (73 percent of the total).
I will soon introduce a new California Desert Protection Act to address the many competing land use demands in the desert, including conservation, recreation and military training. A central piece of the legislation will protect 266,000 acres of land donated or acquired with federal conservation funds by creating the Mojave Trails National Monument.
I have worked with members of the energy industry in the past to develop this legislation in a way that addresses their concerns and look forward to receiving their support for this bill.
It is possible to preserve our natural environment while producing environmentally-friendly energy. The next generation of Californians will thank us for it.
Dianne Feinstein represents California in the U.S. Senate and is the author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act.