Department of Interior continues to advance responsible renewable energy

Solar cells.

Jeremy Levine Design

The first-ever large scale solar project on tribal lands recently won Department of Interior approval—marking continued progress in the agency’s efforts to advance renewable energy sources on public lands.

Located outside of Las Vegas, the 350-megawatt Moapa Solar photovoltaic solar plant, capable of powering 100,000 homes, will create financial and educational opportunities for the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians.    It is a positive sign to see continued renewable energy development in the west, and the key will be ensuring that vast renewable energy resources on tribal lands can be developed in a responsible way.

Ensuring responsible renewable energy development is an important part of our work to protect wildlands at The Wilderness Society. Some places are simply too wild to be developed in any way, including for renewable energy.  Further, when projects are proposed, it is important that permitting rules are followed, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is making progress on this front as well.  For example, the BLM recently rejected an application for the Wilson Creek Wind Project in Nevada because the developer was not providing required documents, including an updated Plan of Development, a document that is a standard part of the permitting process.

The Wilderness Society supports the BLM cleaning up the queue for “actual” projects, allowing the agency to focus on those applications with the fewest impacts and the greatest chance of success.  BLM regulations clearly provide the agency with the authority to reject applications for a variety of reasons, including incompleteness.  Rules that the agency published in 2011 also require the agency to review applications for potential environmental conflicts and reject high-conflict projects. 

The concerns that have been raised that Wilson Creek Wind would have impacted critical habitat for the sage grouse, potentially putting them one step closer to being listed on the endangered species list, provide another reason why the BLM’s decision to reject this application appears to  be a good one.  

These recent BLM decisions are consistent with the agency’s overall commitment to advancing environmentally responsible renewable energy development on public lands across the west. 

Another major milestone is coming up – publication of the Final Programmatic EIS for solar development in the six southwestern states.  By focusing development in low-conflict zones, this plan will provide a roadmap for responsible solar development for years to come.  Taken together with the BLM’s work to advance good projects and reject incomplete or high conflict projects, it appears the agency is taking Interior Secretary Salazar’s commitment to responsible development very seriously – and that’s good for protecting our wildlands and advancing our clean energy future.