From Greenwire September 8, 2009 RENEWABLE ENERGY: RFK Jr., enviros clash over Mojave solar proposal (09/08/2009) Colin Sullivan, E&E reporterSAN FRANCISCO -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is no stranger to hardball politics. The environmental attorney has confronted polluters of the Hudson River, been arrested in Puerto Rico for trying to block U.S. Navy training operations and scrapped with oil companies looking to drill in remote parts of Alaska. Along the way, he has worked for environmental groups large and small, lending his famous name to a burgeoning movement fighting to bring attention to macro-issues like climate change while protecting local wildlife habitat. In 1999, he was named a Time magazine "Hero of the Planet" for his work with the advocacy group Riverkeeper. But in California's emerging battle over renewable energy development, Kennedy has gained new enemies: fellow environmentalists. Kennedy, the son and namesake of the late Attorney General and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), is at the center of a nasty dispute among environmental groups, energy developers and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) over the future of federal lands in the sun-soaked Mojave Desert. The Mojave's 22,000 square miles straddle California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Given its elevation, heat, aridity and proximity to population centers on the California coast, the region is viewed by many as the ideal venue in North America for building a new generation of large solar-thermal power plants, especially in a state where utilities are required to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and likely 33 percent by 2020. Among the leaders in a group of aggressive solar prospectors is an Oakland-based company called BrightSource Energy Inc., which has been making a splash lately for its plans to build 2.6 gigawatts of power for California's investor-owned utilities, much of it to be located -- on paper, at least -- in the Mojave Desert. But some California-based activists are worried that solar developers like BrightSource are getting a free pass in a headlong rush to build clean energy and capitalize on federal stimulus dollars now available for such projects. These activists have enlisted Feinstein to push for the declaration of a national monument in the desert and intend to unveil legislation with the senator in September that would apparently protect 1 million acres in the eastern Mojave to limit development. Enter Kennedy, who calls the national monument, as it is likely to be drawn, a bad idea. To Kennedy, the instinct to protect local ecosystems has collided with the goals of a progressive national energy policy. "I respect the belief that it's all local," Kennedy said in an interview. "But they're putting the democratic process and sound scientific judgement on hold to jeopardize the energy future of our country." But here's the rub: Kennedy has a stake in BrightSource through VantagePoint Venture Partners, a venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley that was instrumental in raising $160 million in financing for the solar startup. Other investors include Chevron Corp., Google.org and JPMorgan Chase & Co. That Kennedy is a senior adviser at VantagePoint, and an open promoter of BrightSource in public speeches, is an irony not lost on David Myers, an activist who charges Kennedy with shilling for a company intent on using his political clout. To Myers, the lure of profit if BrightSource makes it big is why Kennedy, a cousin of California's first lady, Maria Shriver, wants to stop the national monument before it ever gets off the ground. "I'm getting pretty tired of BrightSource using their Kennedy connection," said Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy. "BrightSource [is pursuing] the worst projects in the worst locations, but they have the best PR firm, because Robert Kennedy is involved." Feinstein's monument Enter Feinstein, a longtime advocate of desert conservation and lead appropriator for the Interior Department in Congress. Her office is working on a bill to be released this month that some sources said will cut off 1 million public acres in the desert -- up from a previous estimate of 600,000 acres -- to protect a threatened species of desert tortoise and preserve its habitat.