NWF Applauds New Solar Energy Plan

Framework for responsible solar energy on public lands prioritizes solar energy zones

07-24-2012 // Justin Allegro
Desert Solar Energy

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management released the final solar programmatic environmental impact statement, which outlines the future of utility-scale solar energy development on public lands and makes responsible solar energy projects part of our national energy policy.

The National Wildlife Federation applauds the BLM and partner agencies who oversaw a four-year development process driven by significant stakeholder input. The landscape-level management approach of the final solar energy program is vastly improved from earlier drafts, with sportsmen playing a particularly key role in identifying and encouraging needed changes in the plan. A key component of the solar energy program is the establishment of an initial set of 17 “solar energy zones” encompassing 285,000 acres covering six Western states.

By directing development to zones that exclude irreplaceable hunting and fishing opportunities, critical habitat and game species movement corridors, we can have more certainty for wildlife and habitat. This type of guided development on the front end will help increase the likelihood of successful projects, supporting the efforts to get clean energy online faster and at a lower cost.

“By designating solar energy zones and driving development to those zones, BLM is charting a future for America’s public lands that includes both plenty of renewable energy and abundant wildlife,” says Kate Zimmerman, Policy Director for Public Lands at NWF.

Additionally, the solar energy program:

  • Creates incentives to encourage solar industry members to develop in approved zones;
  • Outlines a process for stakeholders to identify new or expanded solar energy zones;
  • Establishes a more onerous process for development outside of solar energy zones;
  • Considers impacts to recreational opportunities and important game species like desert bighorn sheep and mule deer, by refining solar zone acres and excluding 80 million acres of valuable fish and wildlife habitat from the program;
  • Develops a framework for regional mitigation plans integrating public and stakeholder participation, as well as strategies for monitoring impacts and adaptive management; and
  • Moves forward with processing existing valid applications for solar energy development
"This is a huge step forward for the Bureau of Land Management, which has tended to address energy development on a project-by-project basis in response to the wants of individual companies rather than the values of the American public or the needs of fish and wildlife,” Zimmerman said.

For this new policy to truly be effective, NWF will continue to advocate for key action:

  • Passage of the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, linking revenues from renewable energy projects on public lands to addressing habitat impacts;
  • Continue to identify places that will not be developed in the near future;
  • Develop direction for on-the-ground implementation of regional mitigation plans, and complete these plans to address unavoidable impacts for every Solar Energy Zone;
  • Coordinate with ongoing collaborative efforts in Arizona, California and Colorado to identify areas for expanded project development.
  • Adequate budgets for the BLM to train staff and efficiently implement the Solar Program

Solar energy, produced at home, is an essential part of our diverse energy portfolio and can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

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