Latest: Trump’s BLM approves a massive California solar plant

Opponents cite potential harm to desert wildlife, views and sand dunes.


Future site of the Palen solar project.
Bureau of Land Management


In 2014, two solar energy companies withdrew plans to build a massive solar thermal project near Joshua Tree National Park. Conservation groups and local tribes opposed the Palen proposal, citing impacts on migratory birds, historic trails and views. One wildlife scientist estimated that a similar project, Ivanpah, was killing up to 28,000 birds a year. The fight over utility-scale solar development in the California desert has intensified, with green groups advocating distributed rooftop solar and use of already disturbed lands instead (“Green energy’s dirty secret,” HCN, 10/26/15).


In early November, the Bureau of Land Management approved a redesigned Palen solar project on roughly 3,100 acres in a BLM Solar Energy Zone. It will power about 130,000 California homes. Now a traditional photovoltaic plant, it should have less impact on birds, although opponents are concerned about harm to other resources. Palen is the second utility-scale solar project approved by the Trump administration, which is considering loosening the long-standing Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan that protects millions of acres of publicly owned California desert.

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