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A Glimpse at What's Coming in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

The California Desert is getting parceled out for possible renewable energy development. | Photo: Chris Clarke/KCET

The much-anticipated Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a hydra-headed multiagency and multipurpose document that will chart the course of renewable energy development in the California desert, still hasn't been released in draft form. But the agencies preparing it released an "interim document" today that gives a sneak preview of what that gargantuan draft will include.

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At more than 100 megabytes not counting the appendices, the "Description and Comparative Evaluation of Draft DRECP Alternatives," released Monday, is a daunting document that its authors caution is not to be taken as anything but an informal introduction to the forthcoming draft DRECP.

The Description describes the multiple purpose of the eventual document:

The Draft DRECP, when it is released, will be a detailed, combined document that includes a draft Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP) under California's Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA), a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), a draft BLM Land Use Plan Amendment (LUPA) under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and a draft joint Environmental Impact Report (EIR)/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Despite the official caveat, the Description does seem to formalize some speculation about aspects of the DRECP, mainly surrounding the forthcoming document's proposed Alternatives -- different scenarios under which renewable energy development will proceed in "Development Focus Areas" in the desert. The alternatives listed in the Description include something to displease everyone:

  • Alternative 1 - Disturbed Lands/Low Resource Conflict Alternative
  • Alternative 2 - Geographically Balanced/Transmission Aligned Alternative B
  • Alternative 3 - West Mojave Emphasis Alternative
  • Alternative 4 - Geographically Balanced/Transmission Aligned Alternative A
  • Alternative 5 - Increased Geographic and Technology Flexibility Alternative
  • Alternative 6 - Geographically Balanced/Transmission Aligned Alternative C with BLM Variance Lands
  • Alternative 7 - No Action

That's a bit jargony, so here's the quick and oversimplified translation based on the Description's "Description of Alternatives" in Section 2:

  • Alternative 1 - Focus on settled and theoretically disturbed areas in the West Mojave, Victor Valley, Mojave River Valley, Blythe, and the Imperial Valley
  • Alternative 2 - Like Alternative 1 but with much more development area opened up, with the Silurian Valley near Death Valley added to the mix, as well as adding the BLM's Riverside East Solar Energy Zone and Lucerne Valley
  • Alternative 3 - Like Alternative 1 but with more land opened up in the West Mojave, in the southern end of the Owens Valley, and some Development Focus areas in the Morongo Basin-Landers area
  • Alternative 4 - Like Alternative 2 but with Development Focus Areas in smaller parcels, plus a Development Focus Area near Trona
  • Alternative 5 - Like Alternative 3, plus Development Focus areas near Trona Ludlow, Tecopa/Pahrump, and throughout the Owens Valley, and adding even more of the Morongo Basin-Landers area,
  • Alternative 6 - All of the above, plus a lot of "variance areas" described in the federal Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, meaning development focus areas spread throughout almost the entire California Desert not currently occupied by National Parks and military bases
  • Alternative 7 - No Action

Alternative 1 opens up the smallest amount of the desert to potential wind or solar development, at 1,120,092 acres, while Alternative 5 opens up the most at 2,294,356 acres.

ReWire will be digging into the bulk of the description over the next few days and updating you on the interesting parts.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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