Green Energy Won’t be Soiled

May 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

 Guerito 2005

© Guerito 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Public backing of green energy in some corners has a red mark on its back. But the White House has no problem putting those projects right in the bull’s eye, noting that its policies have untangled important wind and solar ventures.

It’s been a multi-tiered strategy that includes streamlining the permitting processes and placing green facilities on land that is now contaminated. And while the administration’s critics will say that renewable energy is not viable without lucrative tax breaks, the president’s team is plowing forth.

“At the beginning of 2009, not a single, large-scale solar energy project had been approved for construction,” says Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior Ken Salazar, at a recent speech before the National Press Club. Today, he says that 29 utility scale solar, wind and geothermal projects have been approved to go on federal lands out west, all of which would provide 6,500 megawatts of electricity.

The secret to those successes is fast-tracking, or streamlining the process and constructing them on public lands. But the Interior Department says that it is avoiding zones with sensitive cultural and biological artifacts while it is also fully considering transmission needs.

All renewable energy projects proposed for those lands managed by the Interior’s Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will receive the environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Protection Act. They will all entail the kind of public involvement that is required by the agency.

Fast track projects are described as those in which the companies involved have shown that they are ready to formally start the environmental review and public participation process. Streamlining the practice does not imply that the public interest is dismissed. It simply means that developers have performed such preliminary duties as securing their financing agreements and completing their environmental impact analyses before they seek out regulatory approval.

The BLM, which manages a total of 253 million acres in 12 western states, has identified nearly 23 million acres of public land in six different southwestern states with solar potential: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. It has also selected more than 20 million acres of public land in 11 western states with wind capabilities.

California, which has a robust renewable energy mandate, is at the center of the policy. Altogether, 70,000 megawatts of new generation have been proposed there. Among those that have been expedited is BrightSource Energy‘s Ivanpah 392 megawatt solar project in the Mojave Desert.

But such deals have some opposition — and it’s coming from those in green circles, who say that certain ones should be relocated. Take BrightSource’s project that is now under construction and which has 400,000 mirrors to be located on pristine land in the California desert: While the location has near-perfect conditions for generating and transmitting solar power, the developer had to placate scientists and green groups who said it would kill off wildlife there.

As such, environmental groups are advocating for solar projects but want to ensure that the damage those deals would do to the local lands is minimized. Generally, groups such as the Wilderness Society say that brownfield sites are better. It notes that while public lands have a role to play in harnessing the nation’s solar power, many of those areas may be ill-suited for such purposes because of their unmatched ecological and lifestyle qualities.

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