No need for much Renewable Energy development on Our Public Lands
In early April, we discussed planned massive solar development projects on public lands underway in Southern California with Basin & Range Watch‘s splendid native plant & wildflower photo essay Last Spring at Ivanpah. The essay bloomed across environmental listserves everywhere and, combined with many other factors, prompted internal debate among local and national environmental groups concerning the wisdom of the modern day land rush to develop massive renewable energy projects on our public lands.
More recently, the Protect our Communities Foundation weighed in, pointing out in a letter to Congress that the least cost, both in economic & ecological terms, production solution (conservation’s still at the top – ex: paint your roof white) may be distributed renewable energy solutions – solar panels on roof-tops, parking lots, i.e. already developed places that are close to points of use. Producing energy closer to where it’s used minimizes astonishing transmission costs and preserves our remote public land wild places & wildlife which, ironically, are the very members of our communities in most need of protection given global climate change.
The least-cost solar resource in 2009 is in California’s developed urban and suburban areas, and this resource is vast. All urban solar deployments would be compatible dual-use of existing rooftops and parking lots, avoiding the dilemma you noted in your opening remarks at the hearing – “Solar power is very land-intensive, and siting a solar plant means that most if not all of the other uses of that land are precluded.”
It is true as you noted that “some of the largest (solar) resources are to be found on our public lands.” However, these large solar resources are only useful to the extent they are cost-effective in their own right and can be delivered efficiently to California or Southwestern population centers. As we are discovering through individual transmission line proposals and the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) process, the cost of delivery via new transmission may be astonishingly high, without even addressing the environmental compromises necessary to construct the transmission lines.
The RETI process also revealed that the least-cost solar solution to reaching our target of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 would consist predominantly of distributed PV. Why? Because state-of-the-art PV is more cost-effective than solar thermal, and tens of thousands of megawatts of PV could be added at the distribution level with little or no upgrading to the existing transmission system required.