Monday, March 14, 2011

Large Scale Colorado Solar Development Gets Public Hearing

Some groups want to see de-centralized development on previously disturbed sites

SUMMIT COUNTY — A federal plan for large-scale solar energy development in public lands in the West will get its only public hearing in Colorado, at a session at the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center Education and Conference Center in Alamosa.

The Bureau of Land Management wants to lease 22 million acres public lands for renewable energy development, including 148,000 acres in Colorado’s San Luis Valley under a large-scale plan that identifies solar energy zones.

Critics of the plan are calling a land grab that would enable traditional energy investors to develop centralized solar power facilities. The BLM has approved 9 of 14 fast-tracked Big Solar projects in California and Nevada. The agency is facing multiple lawsuits and has come under fire from grass-roots conservation groups, Native American Tribes and biologists for bypassing important environmental and cultural resource reviews under pressure from industry to meet federal funding guidelines.

Most mainstream environmental groups have endorsed building industrial power plants on public lands.
The San Luis Valley is the only region on the auction block for Big Solar development in Colorado. The agency is proposing 148,000 acres in and adjacent to the San Luis Valley including 4 Solar Energy Zones comprising almost 22,000 acres. The SEZ’s are pre-screened and ready for fast-track permitting once BLM receives an application from industry.

The draft BLM study proposes these three alternatives:
1. PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE: lease 21,580,000-acres in six western states/148,000 acres in Colorado.
2. SOLAR ENERGY ZONE (SEZ) ALTERNATIVE: Expedited permitting: 677,000-acres/21,050 acres in SLV.
3. “NO ACTION” ALTERNATIVE: NO limit on industry: 98,732,000 acres/7,282,000 in Colorado.

Community activists and conservation groups in the San Luis Valley want the feds to take a more sustainable renewable energy path. They believe that siting large-scale industrial solar power plants on intact high-value public lands hundreds of miles from urban centers will delay renewable energy progress by decades, drive the up the cost or renewable energy by billions of dollars while further destroying the environment and depriving people and communities across Colorado and the nation of the benefits of locally generated renewable energy.

Here are some of the issues raised by San Luis Valley groups:

“Many environmental groups maintain that large-scale industrial solar development is necessary to combat climate change, but recent scientific studies suggest otherwise. Recent research by Dr. Michael Allen and colleagues at the Center for Conservation Biology at UC Riverside suggest this approach could result in a net gain in atmospheric carbon by interrupting ancient carbon-sequestration processes in arid ecosystems and increasing the use of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), a highly potent greenhouse gas used for electric transmission and distribution. SF6 has a global warming potential 23,900 times higher than CO2.

“Given the many unknowns, but certainly huge, long-term ecological footprint exacted by industrial solar development, we maintain that intact public lands should only be developed after all other options have been fully utilized. In the mean time, Distributed Generation in our vast urban landscapes and the EPA RE-Powering America Plan offer far more responsible and cost-effective alternatives for solar energy development. BLM has failed to give serious consideration to either of these alternatives.

“In the San Luis Valley in particular, while the Antonito SEZ contains some degraded lands, its development would encourage construction of a new high-voltage transmission line, thus opening the San Luis Valley to large scale unregulated industrial solar development on private as well as public land.”

In a press release, the San Luis Valley groups said, “The PEIS is fundamentally flawed because it targets ecologically valuable, intact public lands first. It fails to consider faster, more cost-effective and environment-friendly alternatives including Distributed Generation in the vast urban landscape and the EPA’s Re-powering America plan that identifies over 17,000 suitable sites on already disturbed, degraded and contaminated wastelands.”


1 comment:

Nigel said...

I think over the next few years we are going to hear a lot more on large scale plans like this, and even though i'm all for combating climate change, large scale developments like this aren't the way forward. Hopefully the next decade we will see more residential buildings and companies delving into the benefits of using solar panels and how they can not only help the environment but also the bank account as a cost effective measure in the long run. I have been in the business of installing solar panels california area for a few years now and certain guidelines need to be adhered to. On the whole its definitely something that has a positive effect on the earth.