What you need to know before President Obama speaks at the National Clean Energy Summit

Solar thermal system in New Mexico. 

Randy Montoya, Sandia Labs.

On Aug. 24, President Obama will headline Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s eighth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

The president has been on a roll with taking action on climate change by recently finalizing the Clean Power Plan—which aims to reduce climate change causing pollutants—and approving enough renewable energy on public lands to power more than 4 million American homes.

Advancing clean energy must be a core component of an effective climate change plan, and it is fitting that the president will talk about clean energy in a state that leads the nation in smart renewable energy development on public lands.

Public lands: shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy

As much as it does anywhere in the US, public lands matter to Nevada. More than 80 percent of Nevada is public land, including many amazingly beautiful parks, monuments and wilderness areas, as well as lands managed for energy development by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The BLM historically only leased for development of fossil fuels. Thanks in large part to the Obama Administration though, solar energy exists on public lands for the FIRST TIME EVER.

As impressive as these numbers are, it is even more impressive how the administration has shifted the way we develop energy on public lands to reduce the impact on wildlife and wildlands.

To better meet climate goals and avoid the conflict with wildlife and other natural resources that has occurred in the past, the Obama Administration finalized the Western Solar Plan in 2012. The plan encourages clustered development near existing infrastructure and away from lands with high conservation and recreation value.

The Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone is one of five Solar Energy Zones created under the Western Solar Plan in Nevada alone. It is a major success story of the president’s Climate Action Plan, and it is just 30 miles from Las Vegas.

The Obama Administration approved three solar projects in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone on June 1 in record setting time. And one of the project developers just signed a power purchase agreement at one of the cheapest electricity rates in the US.

A clean energy legacy?

Creating a responsible renewable energy program for public lands would be a huge accomplishment for the Obama Administration and provide benefits to our climate, land and wildlife.

Although Dry Lake has been a model for permitting the development of renewable energy in an environmentally responsible way, this approach is not yet standard practice for the BLM as a whole. In many cases BLM is still using an inefficient, antiquated right-of-way approach to wind and solar permitting that can result in more conflicts on the ground.

For the administration to fully establish and modernize a renewable energy program for our public lands, it must establish standard guidelines for leasing wind and solar energy by finalizing the wind and solar leasing rule. The Wilderness Society is pushing the administration to manage strategically all of the energy sources from public lands to transition toward cleaner energy sources.

We invite you to follow along next week, August 24 as we hear President Obama’s remarks at the clean energy summit.

We’ll be tweeting from the National Clean Energy Summit in Nevada!

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