In the sizzling Chihuahuan desert of New Mexico, blue skies are the norm and the sun packs a punch, making for huge solar development potential in the region. The state’s great potential for solar includes three Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) proposed by the BLM on public lands. With the needed refinements detailed here, New Mexico’s proposed SEZs are very good areas for solar development.
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 millions 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 New Mexico.
Smart Solar – Focusing on Low-Conflict Zones to Promote New Mexico’s Economy, Protect Wildlands, and Build a Clean Energy Future
- Increase economic opportunities by generating tax revenue, creating green jobs during project construction and operations and developing a market for associated service industries;
- Help meet state renewable energy standard – New Mexico has a requirement that 20% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2020;
- 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 New Mexico, 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: nearly 500,000 acres of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance Citizens’ Wilderness Inventory lands, including beautiful landscapes from Chihuahuan desert grasslands to sky islands and wild river gorges. Areas threatened include the Animas Mountains North, Gila Lower and Middle Box, Nutt Grasslands North and South, Eagle Nest and many more;
- Endangered species habitat: over 3,000 acres of high and medium suitability habitat for the Aplomado falcon, a raptor that is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act; and
- Sensitive cultural and historical resources: significant late prehistoric village sites in Chupadera and Mesa Well Canyon, including several large pueblos numbering more than 100 rooms.