Conservation groups welcome more clean energy and urge Interior Department to improve project selection process
SAN FRANCISCO – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that he has permitted a 1,000 megawatt solar power plant – and the largest “fast-track” project to date – on public lands in southern California. At peak output, the solar farm could generate enough clean electricity to power more than 300,000 homes, according to project developers.
In signing the Record of Decision on Friday last week, Secretary Salazar gave developer Solar Millennium the green light to build the 7,000-acre project near Blythe, Calif. The project will create more than 1,000 jobs during construction and some 221 permanent jobs when it becomes fully operational.
Conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society, worked closely with the developers and state and federal agencies on the project. While this project affects a large area with some sensitive resources, the Blythe Solar site has attributes that lessen its impacts, including:
- It is located adjacent to developed lands, including industrial and agricultural lands;
- It is located near a new non-controversial transmission line that has already been approved;
- A large part of the project is located in an area that environmental groups identified for study for potential solar energy development.
Blythe Solar and other renewable energy projects recently permitted by the Interior Department provide important lessons about how we can do a better job at siting and developing future projects:
- Early engagement and guidance are critical – when companies have invested time and money in a site, it’s harder for them to make changes that would improve the project;
- Trying to improve projects after major investments have been made in them is no substitute for careful comprehensive planning, designing and siting projects in cooperation with scientists, local stakeholders, and conservationists. Being Smart from the Start will reduce costs and conflict at the back end;
- DOI should develop national siting guidance for future renewable energy development on public lands so that better projects are sited and built in the future.
Following are statements from Defenders of Wildlife, NRDC and The Wilderness Society:
“It is critically important that we take the lessons learned from these ‘fast-track’ projects and from the development of other energy sources, like oil and gas, and begin to develop a strategy for future energy development,” said Jim Lyons, Defenders of Wildlife’s senior director for renewable energy. “We can never be ‘smart from the start’ when we’re continually fixing previously proposed projects instead of proactively designing new ones using the knowledge gained from lessons learned.”
“Each time we evaluate one of the permit applications we are reminded that there is a great need for national guidance and siting standards,” said Alice Bond, public lands policy advocate with The Wilderness Society. “This is like a team hitting the playing field without having a solid game plan or game regulations in place. Every one may run a different direction, just like each of these projects. Each development has upsides and downsides and the way to ensure we see stronger projects is better planning from the start -- a sound game plan.”
“The Blythe solar project will make the most of California’s sunshine,” said NRDC’s senior attorney Johanna Wald. “This project is a real down payment on California’s clean energy future and will create jobs both today and tomorrow. But while we welcome the clean energy this project will bring to California, the Blythe project and others approved by Interior demonstrate the need for the agency to improve the permitting process. By making future renewable energy projects Smart from the Start, we can better ensure their biggest impact is on our energy supply, not other natural resources.”