State, federal agencies plan ‘phased’ approach to California energy zone plan

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) on March 10 outlined the next steps in moving forward with the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).

Based on an initial review of public comments received on the draft DRECP, submitted by a diverse group of stakeholders, the agencies said they are adjusting the planning process and will use a phased approach to approve the plan’s three fundamental components: the BLM Land Use Plan Amendment; federal General Conservation Plan; and the state Natural Community Conservation Plan. 

“Using a phased approach to the DRECP allows us to build on county priorities and address local needs in the planning process,” said Karen Douglas, Commissioner of the California Energy Commission. “We believe moving forward in this way will help California and the nation meet long-term climate and clean energy goals while conserving our desert’s unique and valuable resources.”

The agencies will start by completing the BLM component of the DRECP that designates development focus areas and conservation areas on public lands while providing additional time for the state and federal agencies to work with counties and other stakeholders to address issues and concerns with the General Conservation Plan and the Natural Community Conservation Plan components, including the proposed permitting processes.

Continued engagement with the counties will help determine the best options and timing for proceeding with the private land components and better align renewable energy development and conservation at the local, state and federal level. It will also allow the agencies to explore opportunities for a tailored, county-by-county approach that fits with the DRECP plan.

“The agencies are committed to maintaining linkage between the BLM Land Use Plan and other components of the DRECP,” said Jim Kenna, California State Director for the BLM. “We will continue our interagency coordination to achieve the goals of the DRECP.”

“The phased approach continues to provide the Fish and Wildlife Service with exceptional opportunities to work with public agencies and private landowners to provide for species conservation and renewable energy development on an unprecedented landscape scale,” said Ren Lohoefener, Pacific Southwest Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Moving forward in this manner gives our agency the opportunity to evaluate a range of possible conservation approaches and fully address concerns raised during the public comment period,” said Kevin Hunting, Chief Deputy Director of California Department of Fish & Wildlife.

The draft DRECP was released for public review in September 2014. During a comment period that ended Feb. 23, the collaborating agencies received about 12,000 comments. Several key themes emerged, prompting the decision to move forward with a phased approach. The primary driver for the decision came from feedback from the counties within the planning area requesting additional time and closer coordination with state and federal agencies to ensure better alignment between county planning, renewable energy, conservation and the objectives of the DRECP.

The DRECP is an innovative renewable energy and conservation plan covering more than 22 million acres of lands in Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. This effort proposes to protect areas in the California desert that are important for wildlife, recreation, cultural and other uses while also facilitating the timely permitting of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects and associated transmission.

Sierra Club has issues with the phased approach

Barbara Boyle, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club, said in a March 10 statement: “The goal of the DRECP has been to balance California’s transition to clean energy with the need to protect our desert lands and species. With today’s announcement of a ‘phased’ approach, more federal public lands could be developed for renewable energy, at least in the short term. This could risk the balance envisioned in the DRECP. 

“Including both federal and private lands in the DRECP created the opportunity to develop renewable energy projects on more degraded, mainly private lands while providing enhanced mitigation for this development primarily on public lands. We are concerned that moving forward now on only the BLM portion of the plan could lead to more renewable project development, and less conservation, on public land between now and when the other elements of the plan are completed. It is now essential that both state and federal government agencies increase their efforts to integrate planning at the county level with the overall DRECP plan and to ensure this phase of the plan is completed quickly. 

“There is now a great opportunity for Counties and local stakeholders to work together with the California Energy Commission and other agencies on renewable energy planning that is well integrated with the DRECP. Many local residents support renewable energy if developed sustainably and in line with community values and natural resource protection.

“Sierra Club remains committed to the overarching concept of the DRECP and to the necessity of both public and private lands being included for its success. We will continue to advocate for well-sited renewable energy on the most disturbed and degraded lands, as well as for maximum long-term conservation of our desert wildlife heritage.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.