BLM Rejects a Poorly Sited Solar Project in the California Desert -- A Good Move for Smart from the Start Planning

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California denied an application for a large scale solar project in the Mojave Desert’s Silurian Valley near Death Valley National Park — a decision that aids in the protection of thousands of acres of desert lands that conservationists, local residents and community leaders have been focused on for years.

The BLM’s decision to reject the Silurian Solar project affirms what NRDC and our partners have come to know of this special place over decades of work fighting for its protection:  Silurian Valley supports iconic desert wildlife including bighorn sheep and desert tortoise, an important piece of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, and outstanding recreational and scenic values.

This decision is an important first step toward permanently protecting Silurian Valley. It is critical for the BLM to take the next step and identify Silurian Valley as an area that should be preserved through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) process. We strongly believe that the BLM, working with the State of California, should eliminate the potential Development Focus Area (DFA) that is proposed in the draft DRECP and thereby set the groundwork for long-term preservation of this special place. BLM also should reject any pending applications for wind and solar development in Silurian Valley as such development is inconsistent with protecting the values of the valley. 

This decision is also important because it’s the first solar project in California to be reviewed under the variance process of the Department of the Interior’s Solar Program. The variance process allows for projects to be proposed outside of Solar Energy Zones if they meet certain criteria. BLM’s diligent application of the variance criteria under the Solar Program is critically important as it sets an important precedent going forward for those areas that were not identified as priority areas for solar development.

NRDC strongly believes that responsible renewable energy development can be compatible with protection of the California desert if it is done carefully and in the right places. The denial of the Silurian Valley Solar project actually enhances the ability to achieve both goals in the desert.  Landscape level planning efforts like the Solar Program and the ongoing DRECP are essential to making sure that the Smart from the Start approach guides projects to the right places and ensures the protection of special landscapes like Silurian Valley.