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APRIL 4, 2011 – The Obama administration’s mammoth environmental impact statement for its public lands solar program is fatally flawed, has no legal justification, and should be scrapped, a leading solar energy advocacy group says.
Solar Done Right (SDR), a coalition of conservation and energy policy groups and advocates, released a report today that blasts the administration’s public lands solar policy, saying that the alternatives detailed in the draft Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) targeting public lands as the first development priority for renewable energy is “a grave mistake in need of reversal.”
The report, “US Public Lands Solar Policy: Wrong From The Start,” details the serious environmental damage that such wholesale energy development on public lands would cause, and the inefficiencies inherent in remote, utility-scale power generation. According to the report, massive solar power plants and the transmission lines they require would do irreversible, long-term, ecological damage to these lands, threatening rare species and consuming scarce groundwater, while doing little to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions, with some desert projects even releasing carbon deposits that have been sequestered for many thousands of years.
Perhaps most startlingly, the report challenges the administration’s claim that its hands are tied by renewable energy provisions in the Energy Policy Act, passed by Congress in 2005.
“The push for public lands solar has been justified as following a mandate in the 2005 Energy Policy Act,” said the report’s lead author Janine Blaeloch, Director of Western Lands Project and a co-founder of SDR. “But the Act doesn’t order Interior to put solar plants on public lands. It just says that Congress thinks ten gigawatts of public lands solar would be a good idea. There’s no mandate.”
The 11,000-page PEIS identifies 24 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) in six southwestern states, covering 677,000 acres of public lands – more than 1,000 square miles — much of it with immense ecological and cultural value. The administration’s “Preferred Alternative” would allow development on more than 20 million acres outside the SEZs, an area the size of the State of Maine.
“Despite all the damage public lands solar development will cause, the Obama administration’s PEIS ignores sensible alternatives such as conservation and distributed generation,” said Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch in Nevada, an SDR member group. “The PEIS charts a path of needless harm to the southwestern environment.”
“The Interior Department wants to generate 10 gigawatts of solar on public lands by 2015,” added Ceal Smith of the San Luis Valley Renewable Communities Alliance, the SDR member group in Colorado. “It would be faster, cheaper for ratepayers and would create many more jobs if we focused on massive distributed solar generation in our vast urban landscapes. It makes no sense to bulldoze our valuable, intact and irreplaceable public lands first.”
The 821-kilobyte PDF file of the report can be downloaded at http://solardoneright.org/images/uploads/WrongFromTheStart.pdf