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Desert Plan Could Fast Track Green Energy Projects

— State and federal officials are crafting a sweeping plan to fast-track large solar, wind and geothermal projects while protecting sensitive habitat in California's deserts.

The federal government wants to use federal land to help develop a green economy.

Parker Knight

California officials are trying to meet a 33 percent renewable energy goal by 2020. Power company officials, regulators, scientists and conservationists are working together to build a plan that protects habitat, but allows for the development of large energy projects.

"We're balancing both the renewable energy projects and needing to expedite those to meet goals. And preserving habitat in a more programmatic or thoughtful process than a project by project approach," said Dave Harlow, the director of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. "So to do that we're looking at transmission leads as well as, how much energy is needed to come from the desert, because it has a tremendous amount of resources."

California's deserts are seen as prime locations for solar and wind farms, but they are also ecologically delicate habitats.

Terry Weiner works with the San Diego and Imperial County Desert Protective Council. She said existing protections aren't doing enough to preserve the state's desert habitats and removing existing protections is going in the wrong direction.

"This is like a huge experiment on a gigantic, you know, gigantic scale experiment on the desert," said Weiner. "The document that came out in December, 2500 pages worth. Those who have reviewed it say that its internally inconsistent, its contradictory and confusing.

Framers of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan hope to incorporate the public comments they collect Wednesday as they revise the draft plan. A more complete document could be ready for a vigorous review by mid summer, according to Harlow.

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