US Solar Power Moratorium, Revisited: Public Comment on Bureau of Land Management Policy Summary Released

imperial sand dunes photo

photo: The Goat

In case you missed it, back in June and July there was a bit of a fracas when the Bureau of Land Management first put a moratorium on new solar power developments on land under their management and then quickly reversed the decision while taking public comments on the matter. Well, a summary of the public scoping comments has been released. You can download the entire 30-page document at the previous link, but here are just some of the many concerns expressed by citizens and industry:Ecological Concerns

In general, the developers and industry groups pointed out that solar energy projects can coexist with, and in some cases benefit, the species that live in the ecosystems in which the solar energy facilities would be built. Environmental groups and others pointed out the potential harm that these projects could inflict on the ecosystems and urged that the delicate balances in the desert environment not be disturbed or destroyed. Many comments cautioned against adversely affecting sensitive biological resources. Habitat fragmentation and destruction were most often mentioned as the likely causes of ecological damage [...]

The issues that were specifically mentioned included destruction of wildlife habitat; habitat fragmentation; potential interruption of migration corridors; reduced access to watering holes; increased edge effects such as the proliferation of non-native, invasive, or predator species; changes in water flow patterns; availability of water; eolian processes (e.g., related to sand deposition at sand dunes); the effects of lighting (particularly at night) and glare during the day from the solar facilities; increased vehicular traffic; hazardous material releases; and increased fire risk.

Water Use Concerns
Availability of water for cooling and other purposes (e.g., cleaning of solar reflectors or receivers, sanitary use, drilling, and makeup) at the solar power plants and the conflicts such uses may create in a desert environment were the major concerns expressed in many comments. There were many requests to analyze the water requirements for the types of technologies considered, including the quantity, quality, recyclability, and disposal of the water used. There were requests to consider the competing uses or demands for water by humans (e.g., for agriculture, livestock, and drinking) and other species and analyze both the environmental and economic impacts of projected water use.

SocioEconomic Concerns
Many specific comments addressed the potential socioeconomic impacts of solar power plants and associated transmission lines in the six-state study area. Foremost among them was a request to do a thorough analysis of the economic impacts, both for the short term and the long term, on the communities near the projected facilities. In particular, requests were made to analyze the impacts on recreation, tourism, agriculture, property values, jobs, income, infrastructure, and taxes. The opportunity costs associated with dedicating the lands for solar energy development facilities over an extended period of time should be evaluated. For undeveloped land, non-market values, such as the quality of life, aesthetics, recreational opportunities, and sense of place, should be included in socioeconomic analyses.

Those people who didn’t get a chance to register their comments during the initial public scoping will have a chance to express their concerns during a 90-day comment period following the release of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which will be released sometime in the Spring of 2009.

More information is available at: Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS.

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