Thursday, April 1, 2010

Solar Projects on Public Lands: Pros & Cons

Posted by Margaret Collins in GetSolar.Com, Tuesday, March 30th 2010

Recently, a Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) poll asked 500 Americans if they support solar energy development on public lands. 75 percent of respondents said yes, yes they do. The poll excluded from consideration lands that are already earmarked as national parks or nature preserves. What these results indicate is that Americans see the necessity for developing domestic clean energy resources, and believe that solar farms on large tracts of uninhabited, sunny land makes good business sense.

Looking at the numbers can be sobering: in 2008, we imported 57 percent of our petroleum, although we were the third largest crude oil producer in the world (EIA), and while our consumption and petroleum imports continue to rise, our production has been steadily decreasing over time. Turning to domestic renewable energy production is one piece of the energy puzzle moving forward. Solar farms, with their scalable technology and predictable output, are an increasingly attractive investment for energy producers.

But not everyone agrees that using public lands for solar is a good idea, as we’ve discussed before on this blog. If SEIA had taken a wider population sample, they may have discovered that many people object to solar development on public lands because much of the land in question is desert area in the west and southwest: perhaps counter-intuitively, deserts present one of the most delicate natural ecosystems in the country. Conservationists argue that protecting native wildlife and water resources should come first. One project in the spotlight has been BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave–conservationists got the developer to scale back the project significantly.

Yet this country has energy needs to meet, and quickly. We’re already making great use of wind and hydroelectric power, and those sectors will also continue to grow. But truly large-scale solar is in some ways in its infancy, and finding large enough tracts of privately held land that are suitable for solar development isn’t easy. So, what do you think? Here are the essential pros and cons of developing solar energy projects on public land.


Nearby residents don’t like the aesthetics
May endanger delicate ecosystems
Relatively inefficient per acre vs. some other technologies
Puts water use pressure on previously undeveloped land
Red tape hassle: difficult to obtain permitting


Uses difficult-to-develop land in low population areas
Uses land not earmarked as a natural preserve or national park
Supplies large amounts of clean energy
Consumes less water than traditional power plants
Contributes to energy independence/domestic energy production
Provides federal revenues

Click on title above for original article w/ working links and chart;

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post! I took a look at the SEIA survey, and I agree that the design seems problematic. Gotham Research did not divulge the total sample size and the percentage who responded. At least not in the document I'm looking at. My real concern is the phrasing of the questions. Most people don't know a whole lot about large-scale solar technologies (concentrating solar power). They probably think rooftop PV when they hear solar. The survey was extremely short, and did not establish that they were measuring what they were attempting to measure. I would have included questions regarding the level of understanding of the respondent of what a "solar farm" is. Plus, the phrasing of the question made it seem as if any biologically sensitive land would be avoided. I look forward to a more comprehensive survey...