Monday, August 27, 2012

Groups file protest against BLM plan for industrial development on millions of acres of public land: Solar program threatens desert habitat

Three public-interest groups filed a formal protest against the Obama administration’s plan for massive industrial-scale solar developments on public lands in the Southwest. Citing the need to focus solar development on degraded lands and in the already built environment, Western Lands Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Solar Done Right filed the appeal on Friday.

“The government is converting environmentally sensitive public lands into massive solar energy factories and turning multiple-use public lands into permanent industrial zones”, said Janine Blaeloch of the Seattle-based Western Lands Project. “The remote plants will require massive transmission infrastructure. To put salt in the wound, taxpayers are being forced to fund the destruction of their own public lands through multi-billion dollar loan guarantees and grants. Solar development belongs on rooftops, parking lots, already-developed areas, and on degraded sites."

The Administration’s plan, as detailed in its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (PEIS), establishes solar energy zones on a little less than 300,000 acres, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah but the plan’s “preferred alternative” is to keep 19 million acres of public land open to industrial solar applications.

Since 2010, the groups filing the protest have been working to highlight the environmental destruction and waste associated with the current policy and to raise public awareness of distributed generation (DG)—the localized, efficient, democratic, and cost-effective alternative. DG puts solar generation at the point of use. Germany has proven that massive installations of distributed solar photovoltaics can be achieved rapidly when it is a policy priority.

In their formal protest, the groups assert that the BLM must examine two addition alternatives: a distributed generation (DG) alternative, and an alternative in which solar energy facilities would be sited on previously degraded or damaged lands. The groups, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, called for analysis of these alternatives in previous comment letters, but BLM ignored them.

As of July 2012, eleven solar projects on over 36,000 acres had been approved on public lands. The projects range from 618 to 7,025 acres, with the average power plant exceeding 3,300 acres. As of July, pending proposals numbered 76, and would cover a total of 695,387 acres of public land. The scale, intensity, and pace of development on public lands are unprecedented.

Massive solar power plants will have irreversible, essentially permanent, impacts. The BLM admits that ecological recovery after public lands solar plants are decommissioned, if even possible, could take 3,000 years.

About the groups:

The Western Lands Project monitors federal land transactions and public land policy across the West and beyond. Its mission is to keep public land public.  

Basin and Range Watch is a group of volunteers in the deserts of Nevada and California working to stop the destruction of their desert homeland. Basin and Range Watch’s goal is to identify the problems of energy sprawl and find solutions that will preserve our natural ecosystems and open spaces.

Solar Done Right is a coalition of public land activists and renewable energy experts and biologists working to promote, and educate the public about, the better alternative of distributed generation in the built environment and on already developed, degraded, or contaminated lands.

Contacts:          Janine Blaeloch, Western Lands Project, 206-325-3503;
Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch, 775-513-1280, 775-553-2806
Bill Powers, Powers Engineering and Solar Done Right, 619-917-2941


The EPA’s comments on the PEIS can be viewed at

Articles about Germany’s success and the potential here in the U.S. can be found here: