Smart Solar - Arizona

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The sun shines almost year round on Arizona, and with strong local support for renewable energy and proximity to urban energy markets, it is a great place for solar energy development. With the needed refinements detailed here, two of the three proposed Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) in Arizona – Brenda and Gillespie – hold great potential for low-conflict solar development: they are located on flat land with few sensitive natural and cultural resources and are near existing roads and transmission lines, which will lower construction costs and help get clean electricity to consumers sooner. While Bullard Wash, the third proposed SEZ in the state, contains a unique plant community and associated sensitive wildlife habitat that makes it inappropriate as a priority development area, the BLM’s ongoing, Arizona-specific Restoration Design Energy Project provides great opportunities to identify additional SEZs going forward.

The BLM has committed to a zone-based approach to solar development on public lands, and through extensive and ongoing research we and our conservation partners have conducted on the proposed SEZs over the past two years, we have grown ever more confident in our assessment that solar projects built there can generate enough electricity from the sun to power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across the West while minimizing environmental impacts. These zones and additional zones to be designated going forward will make an excellent foundation on which to build a solar energy program for public lands in Arizona.

Smart Solar – Focusing on Low-Conflict Zones to Promote Arizona’s Economy, Protect Wildlands and Build a Clean Energy Future

  • Increase economic opportunities by generating tax revenue, creating green jobs during component manufacturing and project construction and operations, and developing a market for associated service industries;
     
  • Help meet state renewable energy standard – Arizona has a requirement that 15% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2025;
     
  • Protect sensitive lands and the wildlife they support by ensuring development only occurs in appropriate areas; and
     
  • Provide clean power to reduce carbon emissions and help preserve and protect wildlands, wildlife, water supplies and communities across America and around the globe.

Avoiding Conflicts, Controversy and Costly Delays

A key benefit of focusing on low-conflict SEZs for solar development is the opportunity to avoid sensitive wildlife habitat, wilderness quality lands and important cultural resources when selecting project sites. A project-by-project approach simply will not provide the predictability that developers, land managers, environmental groups and the public need to build a clean energy future at the pace and scale required. In addition, failing to focus on the most appropriate areas puts our natural heritage at risk, threatening key wildlife habitat and wildlands. For example, in Arizona, ecologically inappropriate and economically risky areas that could potentially be left open for development if the BLM does not truly focus permitting and construction of solar projects in the SEZs include:

  • Wilderness quality lands: over 500,000 acres, including such places as the Red Rock Canyon Proposed Wilderness Area southwest of Phoenix. Adjoining the existing Woolsey Peak Wilderness and near the Gila River, Red Rock Canyon’s rugged terrain provides ample opportunities for hiking, hunting and fishing and boasts Sonoran Desert wildlife such as Desert Bighorn Sheep, Sonoran desert tortoise, banded Gila monster, lowland leopard frog and a range of bat species.