Deep in the Mojave desert, about halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix, a sparkling blue sea shimmers on the horizon. Visible from the I-10 highway, amid the parched plains and sun-baked mountains, it is an improbable sight: a deep blue slick stretching for miles across the Chuckwalla Valley, forming an endless glistening mirror.
...Over the last few years, this swathe of desert has been steadily carpeted with one of the world’s largest concentrations of solar power plants, forming a sprawling photovoltaic sea. On the ground, the scale is almost incomprehensible. The Riverside East Solar Energy Zone – the ground zero of California’s solar energy boom – stretches for 150,000 acres, making it 10 times the size of Manhattan.
It is a crucial component of the United States’ green energy revolution. Solar makes up about 3% of the US electricity supply, but the Biden administration hopes it will reach 45% by 2050, primarily by building more huge plants like this across the country’s flat, empty plains.
But there’s one thing that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – the agency tasked with facilitating these projects on public land – doesn’t seem to have fully taken into account: the desert isn’t quite as empty as it thought. It might look like a barren wilderness, but this stretch of the Mojave is a rich and fragile habitat for endangered species and home to thousand-year-old carbon-capturing woodlands, ancient Indigenous cultural sites – and hundreds of people’s homes.
Residents have watched ruefully for years as solar plants crept over the horizon, bringing noise and pollution that’s eroding a way of life in their desert refuge...more
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