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Solar Energy in the Mojave Desert,

Dry Wash, Mojave Desert

Dry Wash, Mojave Desert

Interior secretary Ken Salazar describes his agency as the “real department of energy.” He is in charge of the vast expanses of public lands in the western United States, lands that energy producers want to exploit for their natural resources, oil, coal, natural gas, and now wind and solar.

Which brings us to the Mojave Desert, sunny and windy, and much of it owned by U.S.

There is a five year backlog of applications for 158 solar projects on 1.8 million acres of public land, which could power 29 million homes. Half the projects would be built in the Mojave Desert, where some of the land is pristine, and some not.

The White House wants to streamline the application process and create 50,000 green jobs by 2011.

Roy's Motel, Amboy, California

Roy's Motel, Amboy, California

Pacific Gas and Electric is planning a solar farm near Roy’s Motel, a classic Route 66 business and a classic Route 66 story

Buster Burris was the wrecker king of Route 66 in the Mojave. He arrived in Amboy from Texas in 1938 and went to work for Roy Crowe at his gas and service station, driving Roy’s wrecker. Buster took over the business, and added a cafe in 1945 for feed people who waited for Roy to fix their cars. Three years later he added the little cabins to bed them down while they waited for Roy to fix their cars.

Roy's Motel, Amboy, California

Roy's Motel, Amboy, California

Roy’s grew into a small city out in the desert, even though drinking water was hauled in by the Sante Fe Railroad and stored on a siding.

Because the highway is there, because the railroad is there, because Roy’s is there, Pacific Gas and Electric claims the land is no longer pristine, and a solar farm near Roy’s will not damage the environment and be far enough away from Route 66 to not spoil the view from the road.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and David Myers of the Wildlands Conservancy feel it is way to easy to use public land for energy production and that the planned solar projects will be way too big. Myers calls it the industrialization of the desert. Feinstein wants to establish the Mother Road National Monument on 800,000 acres of the land that would connect the Mojave National Preserve to the north with the Joshua Tree National Park to the south and the Colorado River to the east. And she wants to prevent the construction of solar farms on the land.

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The Mojave: California’s Newest National Monument

 

Dry River, Mojave Desert

Dry River, Mojave Desert

Yesterdays LA Times had a story about the proposed National Monument in the Mojave Desert. Senator Dianne Feinstein is writing a bill that would put hundreds of thousands of acres of the Mojave off limits to wind and solar energy development.

The region along old Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles is a wildlife corridor as well as an historic corridor. 

There is no place where energy development does not have consequences for the landscape. Straight oil canals crisscrossing the Louisiana coast have changed the way water and sediment moves through the wetlands. Mountaintop removal, coal mining, in Appalachia has filled streams with debris, changed the way water flows through the mountains, and destroyed communities.

Perhaps, if we learn from the experiences in Louisiana and Appalachia, we can find a way to have both the clean energy development we need (and the Mojave is a natural place for it )  and the landscape we want and need.