The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337

Park Service Protests Big Solar Expansion in Nevada Desert


The National Park Service is sounding an alarm about
plans for scores of big solar power plants in Southern Nevada, according
to an inter-agency memo posted today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). NPS predicts harm to national parks in the region
due to water scarcity, habitat disturbance, air pollution, sound pollution
and light pollution lightening night skies.

The February 9, 2009 memo from NPS Pacific Regional Director Jon Jarvis to
the Acting Nevada U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Amy Leuders details
concerns about 63 utility-scale solar projects slated for BLM lands in southern
Nevada. Jarvis cites potential negative impacts for Lake Mead National Recreation
Area, Mojave National Preserve, and the Devils Hole section of Death Valley
National Park.

Above all, Jarvis stressed the lack of water to operate the solar facilities:

"The NPS asserts that it is not in the public interest for BLM to
approve plans of development for water-cooled solar energy projects in the
arid basins of southern Nevada, some of which are already over-appropriated,
where there may be no reasonable expectation of acquiring new water rights
in some basins, and where transference of existing points of diversion may
be heavily constrained for some basins."

"Except for the sun, there is little that will be 'green' about
mega-solar plants in the desert," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch, noting that a key dilemma is that the places of greatest solar potential
are also the most arid. "There is not enough water in the desert to run
utility-scale water-cooled solar plants."

Concerns about the negative impacts of big solar facilities and the transmission
corridors they require to deliver power to market has led U.S. Senator Diane
Feinstein (D-CA) to propose the creation of a new national monument covering
more than a half-million Mojave Desert acres to exclude BLM solar leases.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has promised to assemble a comprehensive energy
plan that will presumably minimize these inter-agency conflicts. In February,
Secretary Salazar suspended BLM oil and gas lease sales in Utah following protests
from NPS about negative effects on nearby national parks.

"A comprehensive energy plan is needed but cannot depend solely on public
lands," added Ruch. "America's deserts should not become
national sacrifice zones for energy farms."

PEER is urging alternative approaches such as rooftop solar installations.
Southern California has vast areas of open roofs that do not require huge new
transmission corridors. In addition, there are large private lands, such as
degraded cotton and alfalfa farms, that have little current ecological value.
On public lands, BLM should limit "Big Solar" power-plants to desert
areas that have already been despoiled, such as toxic waste sites and abandoned
mines. Co-locating solar plants with already compromised lands not only minimizes
loss of wild habitat but also reduces the maintenance burden on BLM of keeping
these damaged lands in exclusion.


Read the Jarvis memo

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.