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New Google maps show sensitive areas of West

April 1, 2009 - Matt Joyce - The Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- The National Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council on Wednesday announced the creation of Google Earth maps of 13 western states intended to help steer renewable energy development away from sensitive areas.

The maps - called the Path to Green Energy - show different layers of development constraints such as legally restricted lands or wildlife habitat areas.

The groups said in a teleconference that the project is meant to simplify development and transmission of renewable energy sources by preventing environmental conflicts.

"We need to put science and our concern for our natural heritage into the process from the beginning," said Brian Rutledge, executive director of Audubon Wyoming. "We can avoid the kind of conflict and resulting delays that can sidetrack our progress to green energy."

Google's philanthropic arm, Google.org, made $25,000 grants to the NRDC and the National Audubon Society as part of its Geo Challenge Grants program. David Bercovich, Google.org program manager, said the maps will provide cost-savings and other benefits to energy developers.

"Anyone who is in the transmission or renewable energy generation business talks about the costs in terms of money, the costs in terms of time, and most importantly, the uncertainty of getting these approvals," Bercovich said. "If we can get people to the right areas and get toward consensus and streamline that process, that can deliver enormous benefits and help us get clean energy online faster."

The analysis covers about 1.3 million square miles in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

In Wyoming, the maps show core sage grouse habitat and population areas recently determined by a state task force. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal issued an executive order in August directing state agencies to protect sage grouse habitat and population with the core population.

"We've made it work in Wyoming," Rutledge said. "This is the very kind of mapping that brought together all kinds of interests to recommend the plan adopted by the governor to identify the places where future energy development should and should not happen."

The mapping project is among several efforts to identify the areas most suitable for energy development and transmission. The Western Governors' Association is conducting a "Western Renewable Energy Zone" project and the Interior Department has made plans for similar work.

"One of the reasons why this project is so important is because it is so timely," said Johanna Wald, an NRDC attorney. "There's a real need for this kind of information."


On the Net: NRDC mapping project, http://www.nrdc.org/PathtoGreenEnergy