WASHINGTON — The six states of Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah could soon find themselves at the heart of the renewable energy revolution promised by President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar following the release of “Solar Energy Study Area” maps today by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The energy potential available in the areas highlighted in these maps could one day generate over 100,000 MW of clean solar energy for the entire nation.
“Meeting our nation’s climate goals will require significant new renewable energy development and our public lands will be part of that new energy mix. The Secretary’s announcement today is first step toward ensuring that we are doing renewable energy
As President Obama gives his annual State of the Union address, those of us at The Wilderness Society feel the timing is urgent to give our own “State of Public Lands” briefing.
As the nation's premiere public lands conservation organization, we’re happy to report that the Obama administration has begun to correct the most industry-centric land policies of the Bush era, a time when vast tracks of the nation’s wildlands were offered on a platter to oil and gas development.
In a major speech last week, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu declared that the United States is in the midst of a “Sputnik moment for clean energy development,” and that now is the time to win the clean tech race with China. He cited accelerating innovation as one of the key ways to ensure that we meet our country’s energy goals and be the world’s leader in clean energy.
The Bureau of Land Management Solar Energy Study Areas (SESAs) are almost always quiet, with few signs of life other than windblown plants sparsely distributed across flat and largely featureless lands, and no sound except for the wind rustling brittle branches. During daylight hours, the sun beats down relentlessly. An occasional lizard is seen racing across the desert floor. Droppings from coyotes, rabbits and other small mammals are sometimes visible, and red-tailed hawks or turkey vultures circle infrequently overhead, searching the stark, sparse terrain for prey or carrion.
What’s going on with public lands and solar energy? From reading the newspaper, you’d think it was all project-by-project decisions, but a far bigger story is brewing, one with huge implications for the future of both solar energy and our public lands.
For over 75 years The Wilderness Society has sought out protections for public lands across the country. Our efforts have kept threats, including irresponsible energy development, from harming the places we all hold dear. Now our team faces a new challenge—finding places that are suitable for renewable energy development. This has proven to be a tough path, but we understand a key element in the fight against global climate change is how we produce and conserve energy.
It’s great that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been focusing a lot of attention on solar and wind development on public lands, even to the point that the DOI’s web site is sporting images of wind turbines and solar panels. This attention to renewable energy is very welcome to those of us who work closely with government agencies to protect wild places from the impacts of drilling and climate change, but there are a couple critical pieces of the renewable energy puzzle that we need to make sure the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management focus on.
Often times the National Journal’s Energy and Environment blog host forums for experts to post their opinions on topics making the news as of late. Bill Meadows, The Wilderness Society’s President, appreciates these opportunities to engage with others.