California Native Plant Society

Conservation Program

DESERT – Solar Energy Development


The California Deserts (Mojave and Colorado) are unique and fascinating places, with many plant species that are found nowhere else on the planet (endemic species). Recently, the flood of applications for solar energy projects on public lands in the California desert have prompted CNPS to take on a significant role in helping to create a responsible siting process that emphasizes the protection of pristine public lands – home to many rare species of California native plants and wildlife.

Renewable energy development in California is moving forward, although not as quickly as solar and wind development companies would like. America needs to convert to renewable energy sources rapidly and prudently. Utility-scale renewable energy generation will be part of the solution. However, community-based renewable energy generation and distribution, and energy conservation will also be part of the solution. Advocating for distributed renewable energy and energy conservation can help reduce impacts to California's desert flora by moving the current focus on renewable resources beyond utility-scale generation. What's more, we cannot and must not endorse the siting of utility-scale renewable energy projects on pristine desert lands as the first option, especially when already-disturbed alternative sites have been identified.

After nearly two years spent obtaining entitlements to build sites on public lands (a BLM Right of Way), to hook up to the grid (getting in the Independent System Operator, or ISO queue), and to ensure they have a utility agency willing to buy their electrons (a Power Purchasing Agreement, or PPA), the first utility-scale renewable energy project applicants are finding the environmental review and permitting stage a significant hurdle. Applicants proposing projects on BLM land can receive significant reimbursement of project development costs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act if they begin construction by December, 2010. State and federal agencies reviewing applications are under great pressure from the applicants, from the Governor in Sacramento, and from the Secretary of the Interior in Washington D.C. to move these projects through the permitting stage in order to meet ambitious state and federal goals for renewable energy development.


The links below provide information and materials for individuals and chapters to use when writing letters on behalf of CNPS, including a template letter.

CNPS Renewable Energy Template Letter: (Word, 38k) This letter explains CNPS support for properly-planned renewable energy in California and includes an attachment titled "10 Recommendations for the Siting and Development of Renewable Energy Projects."

CNPS Renewable Energy Talking Points: (PDF, 312k) A stand-alone version of the "10 Recommendations" attachment to the CNPS Renewable Energy Template Letter.

DRECP:The California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) is intended to evaluate the cumulative impacts of renewable energy development in the desert and plan for the conservation of desert flora and fauna. Click here for more information about how the plan is being developed and by whom.

CNPS submitted written comments (PDF, 1.1M) during the scoping phase of the DRECP, and joined a coalition of conservation groups as co-signators to a memo outlining criteria to be employed when siting desert projects. In addition, the Desert Coalition also submitted combined comments on the DRECP process (PDF, 90k).

Desert Coalition and Preferred Siting Criteria:CNPS is participating in a coalition composed of plant and wildlife experts and concerned environmental organizations formed to address impacts to desert flora and fauna by renewable energy projects proposed for the desert. Members of the coalition have been working to suggest alternative sites as one solution to reduce cumulative impacts resulting from projects currently proposed for pristine, undisturbed sites. Recently, a memorandum suggesting preferred criteria for siting renewable energy projects was developed and jointly signed by members of the coalition. Click here to view the memorandum (PDF, 83k).

Senator Diane Feinstein: Senator Feinstein has been very active in supporting the protection of pristine public lands in the desert from the impact of solar energy projects, and is sponsoring legislation to protect the former Catellus lands and encouraging the appropriate siting of projects on private and public lands that are already heavily disturbed to minimize impacts to desert ecosystems. CNPS recently composed a letter to Senator Feinstein indicating our support of her efforts and encouraging a rational approach to siting large scale solar and wind energy projects. Click here to view the letter to Senator Diane Feinstein (PDF, 20k)

Ivanpah Project: In July, CNPS petitioned for and was granted Intervenor status on the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System project. The Ivanpah project is the first utility-scale solar energy project to work its way through the California Energy Commission's (CEC's) certification process, and with a nearly 5,000-acre footprint, the Ivanpah project will set the bar for allowable impacts and mitigation requirements for subsequent desert renewable energy project applications. CNPS joins fellow Intervenors: Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds, Basin and Range Watch, CURE, and the Sierra Club as a formal party in the California Energy Commission's upcoming evidentiary hearings for this project. Nick Jensen, CNPS Rare Plant Program Director, recently completed an inventory of rare desert plants and potential impacts from desert solar and wind projects. Nick's data will help CNPS identify both project level and cumulative, desert-wide impacts to individual rare desert plant species. Click here to access the California Energy Commission website for additional details about the Ivanpah project.

CNPSers gather around the rare Orocopia Sage along the Bradshaw Trail south of the Orocopia Mountains in Riverside County. Photo by Steve Hartman.
CNPS desert field trip admiring a rare plant – Orocopia Sage (Salvia greatae).


Archives of CNPS Action on Desert Related Issues:

Tejon Ranch

CNPS Comments on Tejon Ranch: CNPS Comments on Tejon Ranch: In July, CNPS submitted comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the Draft EIS for the Tehachapi Upper Multi-Species HCP (TUMSHCP) - the Tejon Ranch-related HCP. Our comments focused on inadequacies in the DEIS, specifically that the DEIS failed to provide the public verifiable data regarding botanical survey methods and results (the TUMSHCP findings are based on unpublished botanical survey data), and that the DEIS finding of suitable habitat mitigation for rare plants was flawed for having based this conclusion on modeling results whose accuracy and validity have not been verified by post-modeling surveys. CNPS concluded a supplemental EIS is necessary to verify the accuracy of modeling results before the MSHCP could be considered complete. To read the comments, click here (PDF, 154k).


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