Greens, new-energy backers at odds over use of desert |

Greens, new-energy backers at odds over use of desert

Michael Riley
The Denver Post
April Sall, conservation director of The Wild Lands Conservancy, is in Kelso Dune Area of Mojave Desert, CA. on Tuesday. Among the biggest initiatives of the Interior Department under Ken Salazar is a push to develop large renewable energy projects on public lands, a effort grand enough in scope that it could re-orient the identity of an energy bureaucracy focused on traditional extraction industries to one that is on the cutting edge of Obama's green energy revolution. The best place to get an idea of the substantial hurdles that effort faces is the Mojave desert on the border of Nevada and California, where the DoI is currently studying several large solar projects that will be among the most ambitious public lands renewable efforts in the West. A network of environmental groups are mobilizing to stop the projects, sighting their impact on the desert tortoise, among other species. Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post

JOHNSON VALLEY, Calif. – If the vast creosote-covered plain that is California’s Mojave Desert represents to some the grand potential of America’s renewable-energy future, Jim Harvey sees something else.

“Their model is ‘You must kill land to save land,’ ” said Harvey, a Web- page designer and homegrown activist who sees the Obama administration’s push for green energy here as a destructive force poised to swallow his beloved desert. “How does that make any sense?”

Pushed by federal stimulus money on one side and pulled by renewable-energy mandates on the other, the Mojave is about to come alive with solar energy.

Nowhere else in the country is there such a concentration of proposed renewable-energy projects on such a scale: Sixty- six projects would cover 577,000 acres of Southern California desert with a collection of photovoltaic panels, sun-focusing mirrors and sci-fi solar collectors atop 70-foot poles.

But as a showcase of the use of public lands to lead a revolutionary shift toward renewable energy, these projects cut both ways, underscoring hurdles that include a dire shortage of transmission capacity and potential for years of litigation.

And here, as elsewhere, it is increasingly clear that some of the most significant opposition to the country’s biggest green- energy projects may come from, well, the greens.

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