Interior’s New Solar Plan Aims to Build a Balanced Solar Energy Program

Oct 27, 2011

A strong solar program with designated areas for solar development can enhance success of solar projects going forward

WASHINGTON, DC (October 27, 2011) – U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today released a plan to develop a comprehensive and environmentally responsible roadmap for solar development on public lands in the West, which national environmental groups, leading solar industry organizations and utility companies agree is urgently needed. The supplemental draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for solar is the most recent effort by the Obama administration to guide development to appropriate areas on public lands to achieve a successful solar energy program while also minimizing potential impacts to wildlife and sensitive lands.

The supplemental draft PEIS is the result of months of work by the Obama administration to address the concerns and recommendations submitted by the conservation community, solar energy industry groups and utilities, and in more than 80,000 comments from people and organizations across the nation earlier this year. Based on a briefing from Interior the supplemental appears to include a number of modifications that could improve the process for siting large-scale solar projects on public lands, laying the foundation for a durable, successful solar energy program. All stakeholders will engage in an intensive review of the document and provide comment during the 90 day period.

The consensus on the recommendations reached by solar industry groups, utilities and environmental organizations, comprise a balanced package intended equally to reflect the needs of the emerging solar industry and the mandate to conserve our nation’s precious natural resources. The recommendations also reflect a significant new area of common ground that stakeholders hope would enable the Obama administration to identify a successful path toward achieving the nation’s renewable energy goals in an environmentally responsible fashion.

Following are statement from leaders of the conservation groups, solar organizations, utility and transmission companies:

“Identifying areas of environmental concern at the outset of the makes good business sense. By streamlining the process and providing additional project certainty, it clears the way for smart solar power development on public lands,” said Jim Baak, director of utility-scale solar policy at Vote Solar. “Although I can't comment on the specifics of the PEIS draft at this early stage, the DOI has clearly prioritized these goals as part of its process. In doing so the Department has taken an important step in aligning our nation's conservation and development interests so together we can build a strong new energy economy.”

“As one of the major buyers of renewable energy -- especially solar power -- in the country, PG&E supports this process which will provide more certainty around project development on the front end, by helping to streamline siting, permitting and other potential challenges,” said Fong Wan, senior vice president for energy procurement for Pacific Gas and Electric Company. “It is steps like these that will help increase the likelihood of successful projects, propelling the country toward our shared renewable energy goals and clean energy future.”

“Industry and conservation groups have supported the Department of Interior’s efforts to make the solar energy program a success,” said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. “We remain committed to working together to resolve differences and help the Department improve its proposed program so that it provides a lasting framework that will yield benefits to our nation and meets our shared goals for clean energy while protecting our critical natural resources.”

“California’s renewable energy and climate change goals are among the most ambitious in the nation. In support of these goals, Southern California Edison (SCE) procures more energy from renewable resources than any other utility in the U.S. Despite aggressive procurement, challenges to meeting the state’s renewable energy goals remain,” said Nino Mascolo, manager of real properties and government lands for Southern California Edison. “These challenges include permitting and siting transmission infrastructure interconnecting with renewable energy projects, which Solar PEIS seeks to address. SCE supports the administration’s efforts to streamline the approval of solar energy project applications, and the necessary transmission system infrastructure to support such generation, to facilitate environmentally responsible utility-scale solar energy development in a timely fashion.”

“Designing a solar program that balances the nation’s need for increasing solar production from the public lands and the need to protect the publicly owned resources of those lands is a tall order, but one that must be met so that the solar industry can succeed and our nation can transition faster to a clean energy economy,” said Johanna Wald, director of the western renewable energy project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The major elements of the policy framework released today by the Interior Department – a preference for zones, a process for adding new zones, and a variance process for projects process that will allow well designed projects outside of zones – appear to achieve that balance, and I look forward to working with Interior, partner environmental groups, the solar industry and utilities to develop a strong and comprehensive final program.”

“Clean Line Energy Partners supports the Interior Department’s coordinated effort to designate solar energy zones promoting development,” said Jimmy Glotfelty, executive vice president, Clean Line Energy Partners. “The zones will allow transmission planners to focus on their efforts strategically on preferred areas, including corridors and already disturbed lands.”

“There’s enough room on our nation’s public lands both to produce renewable energy and conserve our wildlife heritage if we are “smart from the start” in planning our clean energy future,” said Jim Lyons, senior director for renewable energy with Defenders of Wildlife. “We’re looking for the Obama administration’s solar energy program to guide projects to places where the chance of conflicts with wildlife, wild lands and sensitive natural resources can be avoided altogether or are minimal and can be effectively mitigated, and where transmission will get power to where it is needed. The benefits of guided development are clear: Clean energy can come online faster and at a lower cost to developers and to our nation’s wildlife and treasured places. Solar developers, their investors, utilities and conservationists want greater certainty that good projects can get built without delay. We remain optimistic that this new guidance will provide the certainty that we all seek.”

“The West is leading the way in building a sustainable solar industry through our renewable energy portfolios standards, transmission planning and project siting to accelerate clean energy production while preserving the water, wildlife and wildlands that define our western way of life,” said Pam Eaton, deputy vice president for public lands at The Wilderness Society. “For our public lands, that means putting in place a solar program that provides appropriate land for solar development and guides that development and transmission to zones with great solar resources that do not contain critical wildlife habitat, wilderness quality lands or sensitive cultural resources. The Secretary, with the solar industry, conservationists, and others committed to combating climate change and protecting western wildlands, is laying the foundation for that program.”

“By focusing on zones where projects have the greatest chance for success, the federal government can ensure that good projects move forward more quickly and that our most critical areas of important wildlife habitat are protected,” said Michael Powelson, director of energy programs in the North America region for The Nature Conservancy. “We will continue to work with the Department to adopt a framework for mitigation that supports conservation actions on both private and public lands, which is crucial for the protection of wildlife corridors and intact arid ecosystems.”

“With today’s announcement, Secretary Salazar has taken an important step forward in moving the BLM towards a ‘Smart from the Start’ solar development program,” said the Barbara Boyle, senior representative at the Sierra Club. “A ‘Smart from the Start’ program will establish clear criteria for planning, designing and siting solar projects in areas with high energy potential and few environmental conflicts.”

This is a joint release by The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club.

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