Large-scale renewable energy projects benefit the climate but can harm ecosystems. Critics fear that industrial solar arrays planned for California and Nevada will ruin viewsheds, guzzle water, and destroy the habitat of threatened desert tortoises ("Sacrificial land: Will renewable energy devour the Mojave Desert?" HCN, 4/15/13). In October 2013, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that agencies will develop landscape-level plans to mitigate the damage and help balance energy with habitat. Sounds promising, but how will it work?
A new Nevada pilot project offers one clue: Companies in the Dry Lake solar energy zone will pay fees to restore lands in the nearby Gold Butte Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Mitigation projects are also planned for the Bureau of Land Management's other 18 solar zones. Interior's efforts have cautious support from industry, which anticipates more streamlined permitting. Some environmental groups are pleased as well – as long as the companies pay a fair price.