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December 20, 2011

Wilderness Advocates Cheer First Major Solar Project on Arizona Public Lands

Sonoran Solar Project will provide clean power for nearly 90,000 homes.



Ian Dowdy, Conservation Outreach Associate, 623-680-5913

Matt Skroch, AWC Executive Director, 520-326-4300

PHOENIX—The Department of the Interior today announced approval for Arizona’s first-ever solar project on Bureau of Land Management public lands—with the capacity to power clean energy for nearly 90,000 homes in Arizona. Conservationists including the Arizona Wilderness Coalition are applauding the Sonoran Solar Energy Project for its sensitivity to wildlife migration corridors and wilderness quality lands north of Sonoran Desert National Monument.


        “For many years, the conservation community has searched for reasons to support solar development on public lands in Arizona,” says Ian Dowdy, conservation outreach associate with the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, “but few projects have been able to provide a reasonable balance of economic viability and environmental stewardship. Sonoran Solar is an exceptional proposal and can be lauded as a reasonable approach to conservation-friendly, utility-scale solar development on public lands.”

              AWC, along with other conservation organizations, provided critical feedback on the project, helping to inform the BLM and solar company how to mitigate unwelcome impacts to wildlife corridors, habitat, water use, and a variety of other environmental concerns.


              Located southwest of Phoenix in the Little Rainbow Valley and east of State Route 85, Sonoran Solar’s approved project does not conflict with proposed wilderness areas and has limited impacts to wildlife habitat.  The project would be sited near 500 kV transmission lines and a nearby substation, meaning that less infrastructure will be required in design and construction of the facility. The photo-voltaic (PV) technology chosen by the company also drastically reduces water use by 97% from the original proposal submitted a year ago, and uses 56% less land than was initially allocated in the draft environmental impact statement.  By revising the generation technology from a water–cooled, concentrated solar array to photovoltaic, the project was able to both decrease in size and environmental impact with only a minor loss of generation capacity.   


              “The Sonoran Solar Project has become a model for how solar projects are assessed and sited on public lands,” says Matt Skroch, AWC’s executive director based in Tucson.  “With less water consumption, a smaller footprint, and thoughtful avoidance of environmentally important land, Sonoran Solar shines as an example of “Smart from the Start” alternative energy generation.”  


For more information on the project, click here.

The Arizona Wilderness Coalition’s mission is to permanently protect and restore wilderness and other wild lands and waters in Arizona for the enjoyment of all citizens andto ensure that Arizona's native plants and animals have a lasting home in wild nature.

-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement