Utah’s expansive deserts are known for clear skies and abundant sunshine, providing rich resources for clean, renewable energy from solar projects. 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, the proposed Milford Flats South and Escalante Valley SEZs are very good areas for solar development. The proposed Wah Wah Valley SEZ may also be appropriate as a priority solar development area, but as detailed below, we have recommended that the BLM complete a Resource Management Plan for the surrounding area before designating it as a SEZ.
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 Utah.
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 Utah, 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 400,000 acres of lands being considered for wilderness in Utah, including areas in the culturally rich Colorado Plateau, the remote Dirty Devil wilderness complex, and several impressive mountain ranges and basins in the west desert region.
Smart Solar – Focusing on Low-Conflict Zones to Promote Utah’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 goal – Utah has a goal that 20% 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.