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Feds release draft plan to guide solar energy on public lands across the West

Draft impact study signals shift in solar energy planning strategy

WASHINGTON (12/16/2010) -

The Interior Department released an environmental study today that is viewed by conservation groups as a welcome shift in solar siting strategy away from the “fast-track” process.

The draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), a document totaling more than 10,000 pages, aims to drive solar energy development to areas that would reduce impacts on wildlife, water and the environment.

The “fast-track” process – focused on project by project reviews of previously proposed renewable energy projects -- has been widely criticized by conservationists as an impediment to developing a more strategic, efficient and cost-effective program for guiding future clean-energy development.   

The current process has allowed renewable energy developers to choose project sites, apply for permits and draw-up costly plans before fully studying impacts on the land, scarce desert water and wildlife. A similar process is also likely to be used by the Interior Department to permit renewable energy projects in 2011. Conservationists have argued that the lessons learned from the “fast-track” projects should be used to improve the process and help inform a long-term strategy for energy development on public lands.

The following is a statement by Jim Lyons, Defenders of Wildlife's senior director for renewable energy development:

“We strongly support solar energy development when it’s done in the right places and in the right ways to protect wildlife, water and wild lands. The draft Programmatic EIS for solar energy development begins to move us away from a haphazard, project by project approach to one that is more strategic and guides development to the places where energy can be produced with minimal conflict with wildlife and the environment.

“The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal offers us an historic opportunity to begin planning a clean energy future that’s smart from the start, where solar power plants are designed, built and operated in ways that produce the benefits of clean energy and minimize the collateral damage to wildlife and important habitats that can result. Although we haven’t had a chance yet to fully digest the study, we’ll be closely analyzing it in the coming weeks and look forward to participating in the public listening sessions and to working with the Interior Department to improve it.  

“Smart, sustainable planning and a national renewable energy strategy is essential if we’re going to successfully and quickly transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources that will benefit our economy, produce jobs, and protect the environment. The BLM’s study is the first step in this direction. That’s why it’s vitally important that the Interior Department get this right.”


Defenders will be reviewing the draft PEIS to determine…

  • * That it provides protection for wildlife, threatened and endangered species, critical habitat and wildlife linkages

    * If the proposed zones will, in fact, reduce conflicts with wildlife, water and natural resources and speed up environmentally sound solar projects

    * That renewable energy development is guided to the appropriate zones, such as through the use of incentives

    * That solar energy development doesn’t rely on drawing unsustainable amounts of water from desert environments

    * That it encourages development on abandoned agriculture lands, brownfields, former mines and other already disturbed places

    * How many acres of public lands are necessary and suitable for renewable energy development to meet our clean energy needs

    * And in the end, that clean energy projects minimize and mitigate impacts on wildlife, water, wild lands and important natural resources




Learn more about Defenders' work on renewable energy.

Get more information on Smart from the Start solar energy.


James Navarro, (202) 772-0247