The US said Wednesday it designates 388,000 acres (157,000 hectares) in the desert regions of Southern California as Development Focus Areas (DFAs) for renewable energy.
These areas can accommodate roughly 27 GW of renewables capacity using current technology, the US Department of Interior calculates. Defining DFAs is part of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) and the intent is to provide incentives and streamline wind, solar and geothermal projects in these areas.
Renewable energy and labour groups, however, expressed disappointment with the announcement, because the DFAs represent just a tiny piece of the nearly 11 million acres of public lands that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) studied as part of the DRECP.
The plan will “significantly and permanently limit solar and wind energy development on these public lands”, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), the California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA), the California & Nevada State Association of Electrical Workers, the Large-scale Solar Association (LSA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said. They warn that it could hurt state and federal environmental goals.
“We can protect desert habitat without effectively prohibiting pollution-free wind and solar energy development on millions of acres of the planet’s best renewable resources,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of ACORE.
“[..] this plan permanently locks up some of our greatest untapped solar and wind resources, and chooses regulation over innovation and progress,” said Tom Kimbis, acting president of SEIA.
The goal of the DRECP is to define the areas in the California desert that are important for wildlife, recreation and other uses and should be protected. It covers lands in Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
The decision from Wednesday represents the public-lands component of about 10.82 million acres of the DRECP. In that area, apart from the DFAs, there are roughly 500,000 acres of Variance Process Lands, General Public Lands and Extensive Recreation Management Areas, where renewable energy development might also be considered, the government noted.