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A Balancing Act

March 18, 2010

The California Electricity Commission’s recent approval of a solar energy project highlights what is becoming a more and more difficult choice for environmentalists: fragile ecosystems or renewable energy? In this specific case, the Commission approved a proposal by BrightSource Energy to build the 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which will be located  in the environmentally-sensitive Mojave Desert. Some environmental groups including the Sierra Club opposed the project, asserting that it failed to mitigate negative effects on rare and endangered species in the area. The other side of this, for environmentalists, is of course that the energy produced will be carbon-free, thereby reducing climate change. The balancing between the two considerations – fragile ecosystems and carbon-free energy – is incredibly complex, beyond my abilities even if I knew all the specifics of the case. However, I would hope that environmental groups would come together to create a system to unite those considerations into a single frame for judging projects such as these. Thankfully, for now, the Commission made clear that they would approach similar cases individually – that the approval of this project should not be viewed as a precedent for other similar projects – showing that they too are aware of the balance act necessary between local environmental concerns and more general concerns regarding greenhouse gases.

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