Here we summarize concerns regarding the environmental impacts of massive solar project infrastructure development in the desert. This summary is focused on California, where many projects are in process on public lands. Much of the impetus for this large number of projects comes from California’s goal of meeting 33% of its energy needs through centralized renewable energy generation — i.e., a 33% “renewable portfolio standard (RPS)” by 2015. We also include some discussion of impacts in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, another area where industrial-scale solar projects are proposed on both private and public land. Many of the impacts in these states can be extrapolated to other states.
Our deserts are irrigated by water that fell thousands of years ago, covered in vegetative assemblages that have been developing for longer than recorded human history, and some of the individual plants in them are older than the oldest bristlecone pines. Once altered, those plant communities may never return to their original state even under optimal conditions. If the desert’s aquifers and vegetative communities are forever changed, the animal wildlife that has evolved dependence on local springs, plant habitat and edible vegetation will suffer. Hundreds of thousands of acres in the desert are being studied as possible alternative energy sites. Given the permanent damage that would result from industrial energy development in desert wildlands, it’s time we stopped calling such development “renewable energy.”