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Monday, June 1, 2009

Desert Land Rush by energy companies...

Too Hot and Distant for tract houses...But Seems Like Everyone wants a piece of the Mojave Desert...

excerpted from,0,6845540.story

6/1/2009--A rush to stake claims for renewable energy projects in the California desert has triggered a federal investigation and prompted calls for reforms to prevent public lands from being exposed to private profiteering and environmental degradation.

Officials said last week that the inspector general's office of the Department of the Interior was investigating Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc.'s recent acquisition of Hayward, Calif.-based OptiSolar, and its unfinished renewable energy projects, for $400 million. The deal gave First Solar control of what the company described as OptiSolar's "strategic land rights" to 136,000 acres of public land in San Bernardino, Riverside and Kern counties.

Bureau of Land Management officials, however, said First Solar acquired OptiSolar's applications to develop that land.

"There is no value associated with a mere application, which could be rejected by us for a variety of reasons," said Greg Miller, renewable energy program manager for the BLM office in Moreno Valley...

...Three years ago, the bureau had six applications for solar energy projects on file. Over the last year, it has received 130 additional applications from 50 companies, covering about 600,000 acres -- much of it in one of the sunniest regions on Earth, the Mojave Desert.

Some applicants are asking for parcels as small as 250 acres. Then there is Cogentrix Solar Investments, which is seeking more than 300,000 acres...

...A coalition of a dozen environmental groups led by the Wildlands Conservancy has identified 137,000 acres of public and private agricultural and degraded desert lands -- all near existing transmission lines -- that could be used for solar energy farms.

"On these alternative lands we can unite what otherwise would be conflicting environmental interests," said David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy.

"It would be a real shame if the public policy for our new green economy was driven haphazardly by speculators," he said.

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