Don't let the sun go down on solar plan

03-16-2012 // Whit Fosburgh, Larry J. Schweiger and Chris Wood

This excerpt is from The Hill

Right now, little debate exists in this country about the need to secure our energy independence – no matter where you sit in Congress or where you call home. We also generally agree that diversifying our portfolio of energy sources is a good idea. Developing renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power is an increasingly critical part of this diverse portfolio, requiring our government to deliver on its “Smart from the Start” pledge for locating new energy projects and charting responsible development.

Solar development has the potential to supplement our nation’s growing energy needs and help states meet renewable energy standards. At the moment it currently provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s power, but the solar industry is thriving with the number of installations doubling each of the last two years.  We can and should produce solar energy on the many areas of this country that are perfectly suited for industrial solar development.

But industrial development on public lands can reduce access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities. Poorly planned solar development can severely impact critical habitat for game species, like mule deer, that sportsmen have valued for generations. That is why it is so important that Federal land managers with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) address this great challenge by developing and finalizing a reasonable policy to guide large industrial solar facilities to Solar Energy Zones where they will have minimal impact on other uses and resources of public lands.

For the last year, a BLM public process has actively worked toward achieving a sensible balance so that public lands can play a role in incorporating solar into a national energy portfolio. 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 and large, American sportsmen stand behind this effort, and members of the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition support the agency’s solid efforts so far.

But sportsmen have concerns that must be addressed. The overall plan must do more to take into account fish and wildlife species beyond just birds, bats and sensitive species. The evaluation of impacts to important game species, like desert bighorn sheep and mule deer, and public lands hunting and fishing is lacking and must be addressed. Millions of Americans recreate on public lands each year and will not support permanent closures without consideration of how these outdoor opportunities will be replaced. To balance solar development with hunting and fishing opportunity, the BLM must have a strong plan in place to minimize and compensate for the unavoidable impacts of development on fish and wildlife habitats, and the funding to carry out such projects. A much-needed bill, the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, currently pending in the U.S. Senate, would provide a critical funding stream by linking revenues from renewable energy projects on public lands to address habitat impacts.

Fosburgh is president & CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Schweiger is president & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, and Wood is president & CEO of Trout Unlimited 

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