EcoFlight flew with The Wilderness Society and the National Parks Conservation Association over Solar Energy Zones in California.
With its world-class solar resources and a requirement that 33% of the state's energy come from renewable resources by 2020, California has already established itself as a leader in solar development. To truly tap solar energy's enormous potential, many of the nation's energy, environmental and economic experts are working hard to find a commonsense solution to the challenge of speeding solar energy development while minimizing impacts on the land. For public lands that means building a program that guides projects to low-conflict solar energy zones (SEZ's) - areas with great solar resources that do not contain critical wildlife habitat, wilderness quality lands or sensitive cultural resources.
Our flights took us over several solar energy zones including the Riverside East region, the largest of 24 solar zones singled out in a federal plan with eighty percent of the area originally earmarked for solar development. After considerable public input, the Department of the Interior revised its original plan to include significant new protections for desert national parks, including the removal of the Iron Mountain solar energy zone, and the reduction of the Riverside East and Amargosa Valley zones. These reconfigurations protect resources within and connectivity between all three desert parks. In total the removals, reductions, and exclusions add up to over 230,000 acres of development that would have negatively impacted desert national parks.