It’s Not “Green Energy” If It Destroys Wilderness

It seems impossible that anything could be marketed as “green” when it involves the destruction of 4,000 acres of endangered-species habitat and desert wilderness alongside a national park, but that’s how these sketchy solar companies play their game. These solar people have gotten a free pass for way too long. And the truth is that most of them don’t care about the environment—they care about selling the energy from solar projects that they place on public lands. So they squawk like a panelist on Fox News when actual environmentalists call them on their easy-money solar-bubble tactics.

Mark Butler, who just retired as superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park after a long career spent in the care of federal parklands, wrote one of the clearest denunciations of nature-wrecking solar factories we’ve seen in a big newspaper. He joined with another four retired superintendents of national parks in California to publicly oppose a massive energy factory planned for 4,000 acres surrounded by iconic western views and a five-minute walk from the Mojave National Preserve’s boundary.

The 4,000-acre Soda Mountain Solar project is under environmental review, and if approved would be located a mere quarter of a mile away from the boundary of the remarkable Mojave National Preserve. The project threatens bighorn sheep migration corridors, desert tortoise habitat and the integrity of the Soda Mountains Wilderness Study Area.

The solar project would also interrupt the sweeping scenic vistas of Mojave National Preserve. That would be a violation of both the spirit and intent of the recently passed San Bernardino County Renewable Energy Ordinance, which calls for solar developments not to impair views from hiking and backcountry camping areas within the preserve.

But we need solar, right? Of course we do. And sunny California is one of the best places to install it, not least because 38 million people live here.

Here’s where the former Joshua Tree superintendent explains the difference between bulldozing America’s last wild countryside for power plants and building these huge industrial operations where they belong, which is close to the population centers and on land that’s of least ecological value: atop landfills, atop warehouse rooftops, atop sealed reservoirs, and as a last resort atop “marginal” open space near transmission towers, roads and water supplies—and far from national parks, wilderness, state parks, endangered species habitat, and anyplace where people go to enjoy silence and wide-open views..

“America’s need for renewable energy is real, and the desert is a logical place to put solar panels,” Butler writes. “But California has more than 1 million acres of non-pristine lands that could be used for such a proposal.”

A million acres of “non-pristine” lands available, including old agricultural plots stripped of native life and chunks of disturbed land near highways and railroad yards, and this solar company chasing the easy money of the “solar boom” wants to destroy 4,000 acres alongside a national park? Nope.