The second annual Solar Day takes places this Saturday, and beyond offering a sweepstakes to win $,5,000 off the installation of solar panels, this international day has an important message about solar energy. Solar Day will include events nationwide to recognize the importance of solar energy and sustainability.
For the health of our economy and the planet, it’s clear that America needs to take the lead in creating a clean energy future. We need all the tools we have to get there, and along with rooftop solar and increased energy efficiency and conservation across the nation, renewable energy on our public lands has a critical role to play.
Wind, geothermal and solar energy have great potential – for example, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that solar energy potential in the Southwest United States alone could provide more than six times the country’s current energy production.
The Wilderness Society supports responsible development of renewable energy and much of our renewables work focuses on opportunities to ensure solar development is done in the right places and in the right ways.
Large-scale solar projects, while providing clean energy from the sun, are a complete and exclusive use of the land, so it’s all the more important to guide them to the most appropriate locations, where they will do the least damage to sensitive wildlands and wildlife habitat. Our renewables efforts go hand in hand with our work to protect treasured landscapes, with many opportunities for progress on both initiatives together – research, restoration and new lands protections to offset the impacts from renewable energy projects are all part of our strategy.
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) solar policy is still being developed, which provides us with an opportunity to ensure that this process is done “smart from the start.”
We’re working to positively influence renewables policy, such as supporting and improving the BLM’s efforts to guide projects to “Solar Energy Study Areas”, areas where less conflict exists over use of the land. Our efforts on the study areas include working to remove any areas inappropriate for solar development, such as proposed wilderness or key wildlife habitat, as well as identifying additional lands that may be appropriate. Further, we’re engaged to improve many of the proposed projects themselves. With this work, we have the chance to protect sensitive and beautiful areas in our prized western landscapes while ensuring that good projects get built in the right places.
In addition to our efforts to guide large-scale projects to the most appropriate locations on public lands, The Wilderness Society is also very excited about opportunities to site renewable energy projects on already disturbed lands, such as brownfields, abandoned mines, and former agricultural lands. Support for this idea is growing as more and more successful projects get off the ground, including in Congress, where the Cleanfields Act was recently introduced to incentivize development on brownfields.
The progress and successes we’re seeing in our renewables work could not come at a more important or exciting time, as our president and Secretary Salazar’s Department of Interior have prioritized responsible renewables development on our public lands. The BLM is now hard at work to make permitting decisions for 34 renewable energy and transmission projects this year. Although concerns and challenges remain for some of these projects, just the 14 solar projects the BLM is considering in this group (if permitted and built) could generate enough clean renewable energy to meet the daytime energy needs of more than a million American homes.
On Solar Day 2010, I hope you will enjoy the beautiful summer weather and the power of the sun. But let’s also remember the importance of addressing all the opportunities and challenges of solar energy development on our public lands so that we can create a renewable energy future that is as green as it is clean.
photo: Fort Carson solar development on landfill site in Colorado. Courtesy Army Environmental Update, Flickr.