BLM gets array of input on solar-farms siting
Solar energy may be clean and green, but it requires electrical
transmission lines, uses water and takes up land that provides
habitat for plants and animals.
At a hearing in Tucson Tuesday night, some speakers praised
the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for proceeding cautiously
in siting utility-scale solar farms proposed for 1 million
acres of public land nationwide.
Daniel Patterson, southwest director for Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility, urged the BLM to locate
the solar sites on already degraded land close to existing
utility corridors. He also urged it to monitor the use of
Patterson and Eva Sargent of Defenders of Wildlife both suggested
that it might be better to direct a needed expansion of solar
power to existing rooftops in developed areas.
Other speakers, however, urged the BLM and its partner, the
Department of Energy, to quickly approve applications for
"Look at the big picture and not the bugs and the plants,"
said Tucsonan Bruce Marcotte, who described himself as a Navy
veteran concerned that Americans were in harm's way in defense
of oil interests.
"I'm amazed we're having to have this meeting this late in
my lifetime," said Donald Tribble, who said solar power should
have been developed decades ago."
"I don't understand why it takes two years," he said of the
BLM's plans to complete its environmental process by spring
In May, the BLM announced that it was putting together a
joint programmatic Environmental Impact Statement with the
Department of Energy.
The process will "assess the environmental, social, and economic
impacts associated with solar energy development on BLM-managed
public land in six western States: Arizona, California, Colorado,
Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah," according to a bureau news
At that time, the BLM said it would stop accepting applications
for large-scale solar projects on land it manages in the West
until that process was completed.
The BLM reversed its decision early this month after Congress
and the solar industry complained that it would stall expansion
of solar power.
The bureau's project director, Linda Resseguie, said that
means many of the proposals already submitted may gain approval
through individual National Environmental Policy Act review
before those guidelines are written.
The BLM had already received 130 applications for large-scale
photovoltaic and concentrated-solar projects on 1 million
acres before announcing its moratorium.
If all the projects were built, they would potentially add
70 billion watts of power to the nation's electrical grid,
capable of supporting the electric needs of 20 million homes.
In Arizona, eight solar companies or investment groups have
proposed 27 solar projects on BLM land, capable of generating
more than 12 billion watts of power. Most of the projects
envision using parabolic-trough technology, which focuses
the sun's rays to heat a fluid that powers electricity-producing
The one Southern Arizona project, proposed on BLM land just
south of Eloy, is the only one that would use photovoltaic
panels, which transform the sun's light into electricity.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who has championed solar
power during her first term in Congress, did not attend the
meeting, but her district director, Ron Barber, read a statement
thanking the BLM for proceeding carefully with its review.
"I support the siting of solar arrays on public land so long
as it is done carefully and with close attention to environmental
impacts and other important considerations," Giffords' statement
She also urged speed in the process, citing the environmental
harm caused each day by our nation's "carbon footprint."
Delay, she said "could actually result in greater environmental
impacts than would otherwise occur." On Starnet: Find a full
listing of the solar projects proposed for BLM land in Arizona
Click here for a PDF of the projects
--Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573-4158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.