Environmental Groups Butt Heads Over Solar Power Development in U.S. Deserts

A number of small land conservation groups are at odds with some of the nation's largest environmental organizations over whether protected desert land should be opened up for renewable energy development, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Small environmental groups like the Wildlands Conservancy and the Western Lands Project have worked tirelessly over the years to protect large swaths of the desert Southwest. But those tracts are now being targeted for large-scale solar installations supported by groups like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Defenders of Wildlife, who argue that the development is necessary to mitigate the adverse consequences of climate change. The local land conservancies have accused the national groups of aligning their priorities to fit the interests of large foundations, which increasingly seem to be interested in funding renewable energy projects at the expense of other environmental issues.

For their part, large environmental groups have opposed some of the more controversial renewable energy efforts, such as the Calico solar project near Los Angeles. But in general they have been supportive of large-scale solar, even as they acknowledge that the projects can do irreversible damage to fragile desert ecosystems. In response, some of the smaller groups have banded together to form the Solar Done Right alliance, which supports renewable energy projects in previously disturbed or low-conflict areas.

"The Sierra Club and the NRDC — their mission is to work on climate change" above all else, the Wildlife Conservancy's conservation director, April Sall, told the Times. "We refuse to compromise on that level....We can have renewable energy — we can have tons of it — and we can do it in all the right ways."

Julie Cart. "A Collision of Perspectives on Renewable Energy." Los Angeles Times 04/10/2012.