The NYT’s green blogger, environmentalist Todd Woody, does an unusually good job of capturing both sides of this dilemma in his blog posting and article today about how more than 4 gigawatts of newly-authorized capacity (mostly solar thermal) will likely transform the Mojave Desert — despite repeated objections by the Sierra Club and other environmentalists.
The flashpoint of the Mojave controversy is the California Desert Tortoise. As Woody writes:
The protected desert tortoise has become the totemic animal for environmentalists fighting to ensure that the huge solar farms don’t eliminate essential habitat for the long-lived reptile and other wildlife, like the bighorn sheep and flat-tailed horned lizard.However, as Woody also notes, the new plants will provide resources, funding and data to better understand the tortoise and how to preserve it. (In other words, much as building a shopping center sometimes funds archaeological digs that otherwise would not have happened.)
The tortoise has been in decline for decades, and the rampant development of the desert – from casinos and strip malls to subdivisions and off road recreational vehicle areas – took their toll long before construction began late last month on the Ivanpah solar power plant, the first large-scale solar thermal project to be break ground in the United States in 20 years.
The article suggests that the controversy is far from over. In the short run, it may get stronger as Gov. Brown appoints one or more wildlife environmentalists to replace Schwarzenegger appointees who consi entire favor RE over wildlife. In the long run, the actual evidence gathered by the newly-funded scientists should resolve the debate one way or the other.