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Wilderness Society wants Utah solar sites targeted to low-impact areas

Published December 13, 2010 4:16 pm

Federal lands • Government to release study outlining program.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Wilderness Society issued a report Monday praising federal land managers for identifying low-impact areas for solar-energy development but imploring the government to restrict initial public-lands developments to those areas.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will release a draftenvironmental study Friday of solar options for public lands in the Southwest, including Utah.

Wilderness Society renewable-energy coordinator Alex Daue said the group prefers that development be concentrated in areas already identified by the BLM as low impact, such as west desert sites around Milford. Opening all other unrestricted BLM lands for development applications, he warned, could lead to new roads, power lines and other intrusions into sensitive areas.

"We see a huge opportunity to create a solar program that uses BLM lands to develop energy that's clean and green," Daue said. His organization fears, though, that the BLM may use its study to throw open millions of Western acres to development applications, reviewing them all as they come, the way it does for oil, gas and coal leases.

If the agency recommends opening more than the previously identified solar zones, he said, people should register their complaints before the study's final version comes out.

A BLM official overseeing the study did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment.

Ted Wilson, environmental adviser to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, said he believes it would make more sense to leave options open for each county to negotiate with environmentalists and others about land uses such as renewable energy. But he agreed the west desert has energy potential that would create fewer conflicts than in Utah's more contentious red-rock areas.

"It shouldn't be a dictum at this point. It shouldn't be an absolute," Wilson said of the BLM's upcoming decision. "What we need is recommendations [for solar development] that we can look at and reflect on."

Milford Flats, 12 miles south of Milford and 28 miles north of Cedar City, is among the two dozen zones that the BLM has suggested for solar-energy production. In its report, called "In the Zone: Powering the Future and Protecting Wildlands With Guided Solar Development," The Wilderness Society said it's a good spot because it already has roads, transmission lines and degraded wildlife habitat. The area is home to massive pig feedlots, the group notes, and many nonnative weeds that don't favor resident wildlife species.

The state's largest wind farm is eight miles north of Milford.

bloomis@sltrib.com

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O The Wilderness Society's report about proposed solar-energy zones is available at http://wilderness.org/content/pr-energy-20101213.