Cumulative biological impacts framework for solar energy projects in the California Desert

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Abstract

This project developed analytical approaches, tools and geospatial data to support conservation planning for renewable energy development in the California deserts. Research focused on geographical analysis to avoid, minimize and mitigate the cumulative biological effects of utility-scale solar energy development. A hierarchical logic model was created to map the compatibility of new solar energy projects with current biological conservation values. The research indicated that the extent of compatible areas is much greater than the estimated land area required to achieve 2040 greenhouse gas reduction goals. Species distribution models were produced for 65 animal and plant species that were of potential conservation significance to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan process. These models mapped historical and projected future habitat suitability using 270 meter resolution climate grids. The results were integrated into analytical frameworks to locate potential sites for offsetting project impacts and evaluating the cumulative effects of multiple solar energy projects. Examples applying these frameworks in the Western Mojave Desert ecoregion show the potential of these publicly-available tools to assist regional planning efforts. Results also highlight the necessity to explicitly consider projected land use change and climate change when prioritizing areas for conservation and mitigation offsets. Project data, software and model results are all available online.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype State/Local Government Series
Title Cumulative biological impacts framework for solar energy projects in the California Desert
Series number CEC-500-2015-062
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher California Energy Commission
Contributing office(s) Western Geographic Science Center
Description viii, 89 p.
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial California Desert
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