Bathed in warmth and sunlight almost year-round, Arizona is considered a hotspot by clean-energy companies wanting to build large-scale solar energy projects. But while the desert may look deserted to some, the land where these companies want to site their projects is often home to species such as the threatened desert tortoise that don’t have other places to go.
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As a solution, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is working with Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups and stakeholders in the state to identify “brownfields”—land previously degraded by industrial use—for potential renewable energy projects.
“A lot of these places are near cities and they are very contaminated,” says Matt Clark, Defenders’ Southwest representative. “Not only will this help clean them up and put highly damaged land back into use, it will steer development away from ecologically important lands.”
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The BLM has asked conservation groups to identify the best locations and the potential impacts to wildlife for projects already proposed by energy companies. “Groups like Defenders are helping to get renewable energy off the ground in the right way,” says Clark. “Obviously, we are all for clean energy but we need to make sure it is done without harming wildlife and depleting scarce water resources.”
In California, wildlife impacts are also on the energy agenda, thanks in part to Defenders’ work with state officials and renewable energy companies. In March, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a program that streamlines the permitting and siting process for large-scale renewable energy projects that provide jobs and greater energy independence while also ensuring state agencies have the resources necessary to focus on the environmental review process. It also establishes a revolving fund paid for by project-assessed fees, which will be used to purchase private lands for habitat restoration and for offsetting impacts from construction.
“Our hope is that the additional resources provided by this new law will not simply lead to faster siting, but to better, more environmentally sustainable projects,” says Kim Delfino, director of Defenders’ California office. “We believe that the law’s conservation strategy for mitigating ‘fast-tracked’ projects in the desert provides a good way for properly sited projects to meet environmental protection laws. That way, Californians can know that their energy is not only clean, but also that it doesn’t come at the high price of destroying some of California’s last wild and treasured places.”