Monday, August 01, 2016

Why utilities and environmentalists are teaming up against the solar industry

Environmentalists don't always see eye to eye with Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric, California's two largest utilities. But some of the state's most influential environmental groups have joined forces with the utilities to support a massive conservation and clean energy plan, in the face of opposition from the solar and wind industries. Officials are close to finalizing the far-reaching plan, which would divvy up 10 million acres of federal land in the California desert between conservation, energy development and recreation, including off-roading. The goal is to protect threatened species like bighorn sheep and desert tortoises, while identifying areas where solar and wind farms can be built safely and approved quickly. The biggest development zone is proposed for eastern Riverside County, where several solar farms already rank among the largest in the world. Energy-industry critics say the plan would leave far too little space for solar and wind projects, while doing nothing to speed up development. But many conservationists disagree, and so do the utilities. In a joint letter earlier this month, Edison, PG&E and seven environmental groups called for the plan's swift approval. It's an unusual alliance: Several of the environmental groups have sparred with Edison and PG&E in recent years, on issues ranging from rooftop solar compensation to who should pay for the decommissioning of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. But they've decided their interests align on the desert plan. In their July letter to Neil Kornze, director of the federal Bureau of Land Management, they praised the plan's "landscape approach to balancing conservation and clean energy," saying it will "provide consistency and certainty" for conservationists working to protect ecosystems and energy developers looking to build power plants...more

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