Back in 2016, California approved the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) under the Obama administration. The goal: dedicate sections of the California desert to renewable energy sources while specifying the areas to be considered off-limits for animal and nature conservation.
The plan went stale during the Trump administration, as few moves for expansion or implementation were made. Early in 2021, the BLM under former President Trump’s administration submitted a proposal to add 800,000 acres to the DRECP for dedicated renewable energy farms. The aim was to add flexibility to energy needs set by California while increasing economic incentives in The Golden State.
However, the Biden administration rejected this proposal and announced that it would not be moving forward with plans to expand energy zones. Setting aside more land for renewables would harm the environmental conservation aspects of the project.
Initially, the DRECP was drafted by the California Energy Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the course of several years. As renewables development was not the sole focus of the DRECP, the Biden administration opted not to give it precedence over the plan’s wildlife conservation aspects. This effectively saved the 2.2 million acres of wildlife that the Trump proposal would have turned to solar, wind, and nuclear energy development projects.
While it has its share of praise, the decision has also raised a few eyebrows; primarily due to California’s 100% renewable energy pledge that they hope to achieve by 2050. With less land set aside for energy harvesting, will they still be able to meet their goal?
There has been a push to dedicate more land to conservation efforts and vice versa. While more energy-dedicated sites would detract from wildlife, they could also potentially slow the spread of climate change that is hurting these environments already. Yet, those areas that would be assimilated will never have the same natural structures.
In the end, the big thing to celebrate is the DRECP finally gaining momentum. After being tabled for nearly five years with no development, and several scrapped plans, the Biden administration is moving forward. A land claim stalemate would have only assured losers on both sides.
For California, the energy race is coming to a head — will they be able to come out on top?