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DOI moves forward with solar siting plan

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BY JODI STEMLER
The Department of the Interior continues to move forward with its efforts to streamline the siting process for solar energy development on federal public lands. On Oct. 27, the DOI and Bureau of Land Management released a supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development. When finalized, the plan will guide siting decisions on BLM lands, grouping the development into solar energy zones. The revision makes several improvements to the original plan that was released in December 2010, but sportsmen at a November forum on solar energy raised continued concern about site-specific effects from industrial solar development.
“Sportsmen support domestic energy development, and we want to make sure that as we move forward with renewable energy, we don’t repeat the same mistakes we made with oil and gas development,” said Brad Powell, energy director at Trout Unlimited and a speaker at the forum. “We are particularly concerned with how the BLM will mitigate the conversion of large pieces of public lands to single, utility-scale solar farms that will affect fish, wildlife, and sportsmen values.”
According to the BLM, the impact statement is intended to “[assess] environmental, social, and economic impacts associated with the development and implementation of agency-specific programs that would facilitate environmentally responsible utility-scale solar energy development in [Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah].”
The recent supplement to the impact statement reduced the overall solar energy zones from 24 to 17, reducing the potentially impacted acreage within the zones from 677,000 to about 285,000 acres. The supplement outlines a description of the process for identifying zones, including an analysis of transmission availability and potential resource conflicts; zones were refined or removed due to development constraints or serious resource conflicts. In addition, the supplement describes incentives for developers to site projects in solar energy zones — including greater certainty and shorter permitting times — but still allows for a variance process for siting of the zones.
In an effort to develop a dialog among hunters and anglers, state and federal agencies, and industry officials, the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition hosted the Sportsmen Speak on Solar forum in Las Vegas in late November 2011. The forum drew hunters and anglers concerned about the impacts to fish and game habitat and sportsmen’s access to public lands as utility-scale solar energy is developed.
Led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited, the SFRED coalition is comprised of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on America’s public lands. Visit www.sportsmen4responsibleenergy.org for more information.
“The economic power associated with protecting landscapes is compelling, and no one understands that better than sportsmen,” said DOI Deputy Secretary David Hayes in remarks at the forum. “Renewable energy development is a key part of the future of the world’s energy economy, but we recognize the importance of developing solar energy resources and practicing conservation simultaneously. That’s why for the first time we have produced a blueprint for landscape-level planning that will help facilitate smarter siting of solar energy projects – laying a solid foundation for an enduring, sustainable solar energy future for our nation.”
Representatives of SFRED and other sportsmen’s groups urged federal officials to consider the effects of solar facilities on a landscape scale and to safeguard fish and wildlife habitat.
“Wildlife conservation needs to be elevated to the same level of importance that other land uses have received,” said Vernon C. Bleich, senior conservation scientist with the Eastern Sierra Center for Applied Population Ecology and a speaker at the sportsmen’s forum. “Good hunting is a by-product of good conservation, and we need to speak with a united voice in our future outreach efforts.”
The comment period for the current version of the PEIS is open until late January. It can be found online at: http://solareis.anl.gov.

MULTIMEDIA

Watch a 3-minute YouTube video from the forum: http://tinyurl.com/7v4dvms. ♦
—Residing in Denver, Colo., Jodi Stemler is a consultant specializing in fish and wildlife policy communications. She is also the chair of OWAA’s National Affairs
and Environment Committee. Contact her at jodi@stemler-consulting.com.

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