Solar Power Vs. The Delicate Desert Ecosystem

03/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's never enough of one thing: moderation.

With the green light for green energy should come a warning -- there's a catch to everything. With electric cars and the fight to wean ourselves from foreign oil, it's that we need lithium, which is most plentiful in a country that doesn't like us too much. With solar power installations, it could be that the massive amounts of land, while available, might need some protection of their own.

The biologically rich but arid desert ecosystems are remarkably fragile. Once topsoil and plant life have been disrupted for the placement of solar arrays, wind farms, power plants, transmission lines and CO2 scrubbers, restoration would be cost-prohibitive, if not technically impossible. And widespread desert construction -- even of projects aimed at environmental mitigation -- would devastate the very organisms and ecosystems best able to adjust to a warming world.

Nevertheless, there is a public land rush underway. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is processing more than 180 permit applications from private companies to build solar and wind projects in the California deserts.

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