By Miriam Raftery
September 1, 2012 (San Diego)—Seeking to prevent massive and irreversible environmental damage, numerous environmental groups have filed formal protests against the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States.
“We want the public to know that several conservation groups are not planning to go down easily on the Interior Department’s plan to destroy up to 20 million acres of southwest deserts, not even including the wind projects,” Terry Weiner of the Desert Protective Council i(DPC) in San Diego told ECM. DPC is a co-founder of Solar Done Right, one of the environmental groups that filed a protest.
The formal protests against the final Solar PEIS are laying the groundwork for settlement talks or lawsuits, shes noted, adding, “I am pretty sure that Western Lands Project, Solar Done Right, Basin and Range Watch, and Western Watersheds will NOT settle.”
PEIR was prepared by the U.S. Departments of the interior and Energy and aims to “facilitate utility-scale solar energy development on public lands.”
Citing the need to focus solar development on degraded lands and in the already built environment, Western Lands Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Solar Done Right filed the appeal on Friday, according to a press release sent by the organizations. KCET news reports that at least three additional groups, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Western Watersheds have also lodged formal complaints.
“The government is converting environmentally sensitive public lands into massive solar energy factories and turning multiple-use public lands into permanent industrial zones.” said Janine Blaeloch of the Seattle-based Western Lands Project. “The remote plants will require massive transmission infrastructure. To put salt in the wound, taxpayers are being forced to fund the destruction of their own public lands through multi-billion dollar loan guarantees and grants. Solar development belongs on rooftops, parking lots, already-developed areas, and on degraded sites. “
The Obama Administration plan detailed in PEIS establishes solar energy zones on just under 300,000 acres, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, but the plan’s “preferred alternative” is to keep 19 million acres of public land open to industrial solar applications.
Since 2010, the groups filing the protest have been working to highlight the environmental destruction and waste associated with the current policy and to raise public awareness of distributed generation (DG)—the localized, efficient, democratic, and cost-effective alternative. DG puts solar generation at the point of use. Germany has proven that massive installations of distributed solar photovoltaics can be achieved rapidly when it is a policy priority.
The groups agree that clean, alternative energy and addressing climate change are important, but disagree on the means to achieve those goals.
In their formal protest, the environmental organizations assert that the BLM must examine two addition alternatives: a distributed generation (DG) alternative, and an alternative in which solar energy facilities would be sited on previously degraded or damaged lands. The groups, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, called for analysis of these alternatives in previous comment letters, but BLM ignored them.
Solar Done Right has advocated to put solar development on rooftops, parking lots, already-developed areas, and degraded sites.
“Instead," an e-mail from Western Land Project states, "the government is converting sensitive habitat into massive energy factors and turning public lands into permanent industrial zones. To put salt in the wound, taxpayers are being forced to fund the destruction of our own public lands through multi-billion dollar loan guarantees.”
The group notes that Germany has proven that massive installations of distributed photovoltaics can be achieved rapidly when a government makes it a policy priority. Germany has far more rooftop solar than the U.S., even though Germany is less sunny and located at a higher latitude than the U.S. Southwest. Over 80% of solar PV in Germany are on rooftops. See also: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/rooftop-revolution-ilsr.pdf
Desert solar projects has potential for devastating consequences on sensitive species such as desert tortoises, burrowing owls and bighorn sheep through vast habitat destruction.
A recent Los Angeles Times article cited additional concerns, including the potential for concentrated solar facilities to cause planes to veer off course, blind motorists, incinerate birds, or even attract heat-seeking missiles from military testing facilities.
Massive solar and wind projects can also have negative economic impacts, according to research provided by the newly formed Tourism Economics Commission. For example, Joshua Tree National Monument brings in $64 million in tourism revenues annually; 90% of visitors surveyed said they are attracted to the area by unobstructed views of nature. See http://29palmsinn.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/the-death-of-the-california-desert/ for more information.
As of July 2012, eleven solar projects on over 36,000 acres had been approved on public lands. The projects range from 618 to 7,025 acres, with the average power plant exceeding 3,300 acres. As of July, pending proposals numbered 76, and would cover a total of 695,387 acres of public land. The scale, intensity, and pace of development on public lands are unprecedented.
Massive solar power plants will have irreversible, essentially permanent, impacts. The BLM admits that ecological recovery after public lands solar plants are decommissioned, if even possible, could take 3,000 years.
About the groups:
The Western Lands Project monitors federal land transactions and public land policy across the West and beyond. Its mission is to keep public land public.
Basin and Range Watch is a group of volunteers in the deserts of Nevada and California working to stop the destruction of their desert homeland. Basin and Range Watch’s goal is to identify the problems of energy sprawl and find solutions that will preserve our natural ecosystems and open spaces.
Solar Done Right is a coalition of public land activists and renewable energy experts and biologists working to promote, and educate the public about, the better alternative of distributed generation in the built environment and on already developed, degraded, or contaminated lands.
Several groups’ formal protest can be viewed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/104091087/Protest-of-BLM-Solar-Energy-Programmatic-EIS.
The EPA’s comments on the PEIS can be viewed at http://www.epa.gov/region9/nepa/letters/solar-energy-six-states-DPEIS.pdf