Sunny and spacious, Arizona’s unused public lands are providing researchers with great ways to turn wasted space into geothermal and solar treasures.
Arizona is a hotspot for renewable energy because of the sunlight that bathes it almost year round. The bare bones of the land and vast open spaces present companies with an empty canvas onto which they can paint project plans for solar paneling and geothermal heat.
Members of the Bureau of Land Management have grasped at these opportunities and are leaping ahead of the global energy crisis by using abandoned public lands to create renewable energy, thanks to the Restoration Design Energy Project: Turning Brownfields Green with Renewable Energy. Last year, the Wilderness Society recognized the project with four Comparative Analysis of Particular Excellence awards.
Teri Raml, the project’s former manager, says public acknowledgement helps make things happen. “I think getting recognition from the conservation community about our efforts is great,” she says. “It shows us we’ve got some potential partners in this project.”
Raml says the project emphasizes one of two ways renewable energy companies prefer to seek out project locations. By using brownfields — land previously used for industrial purposes — the BLM prevents pristine lands from being developed. The other route involves installing solar panels on rooftops.
“We thought, ‘Why not use lands that aren’t being used recreationally or as wildlife habitat?’ It just makes sense,” she adds.
Alex Daue, a member of the BLM action team that selected the award recipients, is the Wilderness Society’s renewable energy coordinator and says society members “just love” the idea of building renewable energy on brownfields: “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The brownfields pegged as possible sites include 2,800 acres outside the Sonoran Desert National Monument, off of Interstate 8, as well as 1,300 acres west of Phoenix, which are known as the Foothills Site. The BLM has identified 42 disturbed sites all over Arizona that, with a little TLC, can be sold to solar and geothermal companies. Lands categorized as disturbed can be anything from abandoned mines to old landfills.
To gain project support, the BLM opened the idea up to the public. John Shepard, senior advisor at the Sonoran Institute of Tucson, was on a team of people that suggested the BLM identify parcels of land it owns that are impractical and lack public value.
“We thought it was a really great example of the BLM playing a leadership role on an important land issue,” Shepard says.
Raml says project members are scoping out lands and drafting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that should be released this summer. Clean-up projects should be underway after the final EIS is released by the summer of 2011. “We think this is a fantastic opportunity and we will be working with BLM on this [moving] forward.”
— Jodi Cisman, editorial intern