Smart Solar - Colorado

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Colorado has built a reputation as a national leader on renewable energy, steadily increasing its wind and solar portfolio over the years and in 2010 passing a law requiring that 30% the state’s energy come from renewable resources by 2020, one of the highest standards in the country. The state’s great potential for solar includes four Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) proposed by the BLM on public lands. With the needed refinements detailed here, Colorado’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 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 Colorado.

Smart Solar – Focusing on Low-Conflict Zones to Promote Colorado’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– Colorado has a requirement that 30% 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 Colorado, 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 2,500 acres of the Rio Grande Citizens’ Proposed Wilderness Area, roughly 25% of the total 10,150 acre unit. The broader area includes the Rio Grande River corridor, well-known for its steep cliffs and lush riparian vegetation and contains important habitat for raptors including prairie falcons and bald and golden eagles;
  • 13,382 acres (in ten areas) designated by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program as areas of high biodiversity significance; and
  • 561 acres of the Colorado Division of Wildlife/BLM Hot Creek State Wildlife Area.