Financial investment in power line studies for the southwest could protect wildlands and advance clean energy

America needs new power lines to get clean energy to our homes and businesses and work should be done to ensure those lines avoid sensitive lands.

Photo by NREL.

Power lines are needed to connect the rich wind and solar resources of the West to our cities, but must be put in the right places to avoid wildlands and wildlife.

Though the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has made progress in improving transmission corridors, the lack of money for studies and public outreach has been a barrier.

Fortunately, the Obama administration made a major commitment last week to update transmission infrastructure in the United States to make it easier to develop clean energy.  Part of the commitment includes the BLM allocating $500,000 to advance its “West-wide Energy Corridors” review.

Back in 2005, Congress tasked the administration with designating routes for electric power lines and pipelines that cross public lands. However, the routes identified crossed sensitive lands and did not encourage wind and solar development. The Interior Department is now working to fix things by identifying low-conflict lands for these corridors.

Meeting clean energy goals

Home to world-class solar and wind resources and rugged and beautiful Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the desert southwest is an important area for both conservation and renewable energy. The BLM has selected this area as its first priority for review of the corridors.

The new funds will help the BLM engage with local communities to find better places for power lines in the region, as well as collect important data about the natural and cultural resources on neighboring lands. This review could also lead to better access for renewable energy resources while avoiding wildlands and habitat for wildlife like the desert tortoise.

Ensuring corridors work

One corridor that conservation groups, solar developers and utilities have been taking a closer look at, and could benefit from additional work made possible by these funds, runs along Interstate 10 between Phoenix, Arizona and the California border. 

With California’s increasing clean energy goals and states across the southwest considering closer integration of their transmission systems, a corridor along appropriate lands through this area would be of great value.

Though this funding is a great shot in the arm for the agency’s efforts, additional money is needed to complete the first priority region and tackle the remaining regions across the west.  President Obama’s 2016 budget includes a request for an additional $5 million to work on transmission corridors.

There are opportunities to ensure clean energy moves ahead in the right way and the right places on public lands. In addition to the needed funding, our Brighter Future report outlines a number of ways the administration can secure a lasting renewable energy program for our public lands.