WHO KNEW that one day 1 million or so acres of barren Mojave Desert would be so popular? Indeed, there is an interesting standoff brewing between a number of aspiring alternative energy entrepreneurs and a veteran senator who seeks to preserve the region. Yes, environmentalists against an environmentalist.
President Barack Obama and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have put new cleaner energy sources on their agendas, and there are plenty of players ready to step in and take the lead. Among those is Oakland-based solar energy startup BrightSource Energy, which receives a good chunk of financial backing from San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. and Mountain View-based Google. It wants to put a project in the Mojave Desert Preserve that could cost $2 billion and put more than 200,000 mirrors in the desert that could one day be a major power source for the nation.
It's not just a solar game; investors in wind energy want a piece of the Mojave Desert. In all, the Bureau of Land Management is reviewing 130 applications for solar and wind energy developments, covering more than 1 million acres of public land. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says not so fast.
Feinstein is preparing legislation that would permanently put about 800,000 acres of desert land off limits to energy projects and become designated as California's newest national monument. One of Feinstein's crowning achievements is the 1994 California Desert Protection Act where land was purchased by the government with the expressed interest of preservation.
We agree with Feinstein that the entire desert shouldn't be turned into shiny mirrors and wind propellers, but we do think there is room for intelligent compromise here.
Instead of fighting a battle among environmental interests, we should turn it into a productive partnership. Perhaps Feinstein can back off on the number of acres needed for a monument and the BLM can narrow the number of acres allowed for alternative energy projects.
No one can seriously think the Mojave Desert is the only region in the nation that can house these projects. If companies are willing to spend billions on them, they can finance research to locate suitable places in other areas of the U.S. without eating up the entire Mojave Desert.
At the same time, we think Feinstein needs to acknowledge the new direction in which the country is headed, a course that is away from fossil fuels and foreign sources.
With careful planning, we're confident Feinstein and new energy entrepreneurs can live happily together in the barren desert.