$4.9M reserved for wildlife, plant research before solar, wind projects



The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it will spend $4.9 million to study the impact of renewable energy projects on wildlife and rare plant species. This move could help the bureau decide where to place projects during environmental review and could fast-track some permits by conducting wildlife studies ahead of time. Nevada, home to eight of the 10 largest proposed solar projects in the US, is expected to be a focus for these studies.

As the renewable energy transition accelerates, there is a crucial need for data to guide the development of projects such as solar farms, wind turbines, and geothermal plans. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has committed $4.9 million to investigate the effects of renewable energy developments on wildlife and rare plant species across America’s public lands.

This research could significantly contribute to the environmental review process, potentially enabling a faster permitting process by conducting wildlife studies in advance. Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director of the Center for Biological Diversity, welcomed the move, emphasizing the importance of comprehensive data for sustainable planning decisions.

Nevada’s Solar Projects

Nevada is a significant player in the renewable energy sector, hosting eight of the ten largest proposed solar projects in the U.S. These initiatives are set to generate over a quarter of the 25 gigawatts of electricity targeted by the Biden administration for production on public lands by 2025.

BLM’s December announcement outlined a series of study points, including the thermal effects of solar facilities on desert tortoises, regional inventories of migratory bird species, and surveys to collect data on rare plant species.

Precedent for Large-Scale Analysis

Donnelly highlighted past successful large-scale analyses, such as BLM’s Desert Renewable Energy and Conservation Plan (DRECP) in California, which allocated 2.5 million acres for conservation while authorizing solar development on 500,000 acres. However, similar strategies are yet to be implemented beyond California, a fact Donnelly hopes will change with this new effort.

Aiming for Responsible Permitting

BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning expressed optimism about the new research, hoping it will facilitate more efficient, responsible renewable energy permitting while improving conservation outcomes. She emphasized that understanding the impacts of renewable energy development on wildlife species is crucial in the fight against climate change.

The resulting data from the studies, according to BLM, will help to proactively minimize risks to wildlife and habitats by identifying suitable locations for renewable energy projects. Such proactive measures will benefit developers during project planning, streamline the permitting processes, and facilitate environmentally-responsible renewable energy deployment on public lands.

The commitment to renewable energy investment is part of Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, described as “the largest climate investment in history”. This Act has funded numerous water conservation projects and aims for a carbon-free power sector by 2035.

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