Smart Solar

Guiding renewable energy away from wildlife habitat, like that of the desert tortoise, is a priority for The Wilderness Society
We can protect wildlands and wildlife, as well as facilitate responsible renewable energy development, when we guide solar projects to Solar Energy Zones.

Finding the right places for solar development on public lands helps projects succeed while protecting our natural heritage.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has designated low-conflict Solar Energy Zones on public lands in the Southwest through its Western Solar Plan. These areas provide great solar resources and few conflicts with wildlands and wildlife habitat.

The Wilderness Society works with conservation partners, solar developers and the BLM to ensure the right places are chosen as Solar Energy Zones and solar projects on public lands are guided to these zones.

Why smart solar?

Solar development on public lands offers many benefits, from reducing the threat of climate change to creating green jobs. Large-scale projects have serious impacts on the land, however, so it is important that they be built in the right places and the right ways. By focusing development in low-conflict zones, we can:

  • Protect wildlands and sensitive wildlife habitat
  • Facilitate responsible development by using taking advantage of nearby existing roads and power lines. This makes development faster, cheaper and better for the environment, solar developers and consumers
  • Help plan for the future. Identifying Solar Energy Zones can help plan for new power lines needed to connect solar projects to cities where people and businesses will use the power

What we are doing

The Wilderness Society continues to work in collaboration with:

  • Conservation partners at regional and national organizations,
  • Solar developers,
  • Government agencies, including the BLM and Department of Energy, and
  • Utilities that manage the power grid and deliver power to consumers How we accomplish this work

How we accomplish this work

The BLM completed its plan for solar development on public lands in the six southwestern states in October 2012. We were heavily engaged in improving the Western Solar Plan as it was developed. Much of this work is featured in our Smart Solar report (PDF). We focused on:

  • Extensive research of the proposed zones, including computer mapping, site visits and consultations with partners and experts
  • Submitting detailed comments to the BLM with recommended improvements on their plan
  • Meeting with conservation partners, solar developers to have an open dialogue

Now that the Western Solar Plan is complete, we are working to ensure the tools it provides for responsible solar development are used correctly. This includes:

  • Guiding projects to low-conflict Solar Energy Zones by incentivizing development there
  • Helping develop plans to off-set impacts from development in zones through nearby land protection or wildlife habitat restoration
  • Identifying new potential zones so the solar program has room to grow responsibly
  • Ensuring that development outside of the zones is the exception, not the rule, and only occurs in acceptable places