4.5 Million Acres of Arizona's Public Lands Proposed for Fast Tracked Solar Development
BLM over-reaches on their Preferred Alternative, sets up potential conflict with future wilderness protections
In recent weeks, the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy released a much-awaited Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy generation on public lands across the Southwest. In Arizona, the initiative identifies more than 4.45 million acres of BLM lands in their preferred "Solar Development Alternative" (SDA), representing more than a third of the land under their jurisdiction. While various criteria were used by the agencies to exclude sensitive areas from the SDA, potential conflict does occur with AWC's database of citizen-proposed wilderness areas (go to map). In all about 11.5% of proposed wilderness areas – or about 500,000 acres – also include the SDA. The overlapping areas, while considered suitably flat for solar development, exemplify wilderness characteristics such as opportunities for solitude and non-mechanized recreation, naturalness, and lack of substantial developments. Many of these lands also bear significant cultural and archaeological resources that make them unique as potential wilderness areas.
There is hope. The BLM also identified a much smaller alternative in the PEIS for solar development. Called the Solar Energy Zones Alternative, it outlines about 15,000 acres across BLM lands ready for fast-track development. While we don't understand why such a large discrepancy between the two alternatives, the Solar Energy Zones – when combined with solar development on thousands of acres of degraded lands – is a better guide for solar companies and provides less (zero) conflict with areas that retain wilderness characteristics.
Case Study of a Wilderness Threatened: Red Rock Canyon
The Red Rock Canyon proposed wilderness area is 23,298 acres in size and located just north of Gila Bend or just southeast of Woolsey Peak. The unit's soaring cliffs rise 1,200 feet above the Gila River and contains unique geologic sedimentary strata as well as significant archeological resources.
Unfortunately, the BLM's Solar Development Alternative overlaps 10,412 acres, or roughly 45% of this spectacular area, threatening the fragile and outstanding values mentioned above. Can such a remote and beautiful place really be fast tracked for solar development? Certainly, there are many suitable lands that would qualify for this type of heavy impact development, serving both the needs of alternative energy while preserving one of our greatest resources, wilderness, an economic resource that cannot be reclaimed once destroyed.
If you're interested in attending the Phoenix or Tucson meeting, please contact Ian Dowdy: firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information and ways you can help make a difference in the BLM's next steps.