Build solar! Build wind! ... but not in my desert


A new era is dawning, we're assured. The dark clouds of industrial pollution (OK, carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless, non-toxic, and necessary, but let's not get bogged down in details) are about to be banished, ushering in a glorious new day of hygienic energy cleanliness and perfectly balanced global neither-warming-nor-cooling.

Not a single new nuclear or coal-fired power plant will be built in America! Yay! Instead, all mankind will join hands, sing "Kumbaya" and march united into a brilliant, clean, energy-self-sufficient future.

OK, there's that teensy problem that our electric bills may triple, while our total national output of electricity may drop to less than half of what we actually need. But the key here is to re-define "need." Do we really "need" to air-condition Las Vegas hotels and casinos till they're cooler than 90 degrees all summer? To heat the homes of old and sick people in the snowy north till they're above 40 degrees in the winter?

So what if our remaining factories have to close? There won't be any unemployment, because everyone will be pleased as punch to roll up their sleeves and get to work for their new government paychecks -- funded by the new 90 percent taxes on any greedy rich lucky enough to remain out of jail -- building our vast new wind farms and solar arrays, which will be located ... um, wait just a second, which will be located ...

In Washington last week, a U.S. senator moved to rule vast swaths of Southern California's Mojave Desert -- pretty at sunset, but for the most part the place you'd photograph to illustrate an encyclopedia entry on "God-forsaken scrub" -- off limits for wind or solar energy development.

Who was this recalcitrant troglodyte? Some far-right Republican hoping to throw a monkey-wrench into all of President Obama's fine alternative energy planning?

Actually, it was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. -- who might as well have "Big Government" tattooed on one biceps, and "Further Left" on the other. Sen. Feinstein is now drafting legislation to bar energy development on a vast tract that could end up totaling a million acres between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park, off old Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles. Fans of the plan enthuse that the area includes desert tortoise habitat, wildlife corridors, cactus gardens and the Amboy Crater --- an inactive volcanic pit where portions of the 1959 movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" were filmed.

Maybe they could call it "The Pat Boone-Arlene Dahl National Monument," with a special footnote on the plaque for their co-star, Gertrude the pet duck.

David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, says the new "monument" will likely be in excess of 800,000 acres. Sen. Feinstein said in a Capitol Hill interview Tuesday she's sending her staff to the desert (If we'd suggested that it would have been considered "hate speech.") to consider which areas should be ruled off limits to green-energy projects.

So popular is the desolate area for such undertakings that the BLM is currently reviewing 130 applications for solar and wind energy development in the California desert, covering more than 1 million acres of public land. At least 19 projects have been suggested in the very area where her new monument has been proposed, Mr. Myers reports.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans did not fail to note the irony.

"If there is such strong support for renewable energy, then why are they moving to block renewable energy production in their own state?" asked Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Myron Ebell, an energy expert with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, called Feinstein's effort "just the first example of how hard it is going to be to realize President Obama's dream of a green-energy economy."

"It's frustrating," adds Paul Whitworth, whose San Diego-based LightSource Renewables hopes to develop a solar project on about 6,000 acres near Amboy, Calif. "We spent a lot of time researching the desert, and consulting with the BLM to make sure we didn't apply on top of an area of critical environmental concern. ... Now, there's uncertainty on whether these projects will go ahead."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a speech at a Yale University climate-change conference last year, "If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it."

A representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agrees. "If you're going to take the desert away from us, where are you going to allow it -- Los Angeles?" asked Bill Kovacs, the chamber's vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs.

Because green extremists can also be counted on to fight any proposed transmission line route, Mr. Kovacs' suggestions may prove more prescient than he realizes.

Washington's Ellipse, perhaps? New York's Central Park?

 

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