Renewable Energy in the California Desert: Mechanisms for Evaluating Solar Development on Public Lands

By May 10, 2010Library

By Takahiro Isshiki, Sean Killian, and Laura Palombi, Erb ’11. Faculty Advisor: Steve Yaffee

Abstract: Solar energy development is experiencing significant growth today due to a variety of reasons, including national interest in increasing energy efficiency, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, increasing domestic energy production, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. This national interest and the availability of high quality solar resources in the California desert have led to proposals for 54 utility-scale solar facilities on public lands. These proposals have forced conservation organizations to consider the tradeoffs between renewable energy generation as a means of combating climate change, and the preservation of the desert’s wildlands and biodiversity. This study analyzes the political, economic, and technological drivers for utility-scale solar development on public lands, as well as the potential impacts to local residents and desert ecology. The goals of this report are to provide a series of qualitative and quantitative analyses of the potential impacts, describe a series of tools for evaluating proposed utility-scale solar energy projects, and develop a series of recommendations for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permitting process.
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