The National Park Service has been trying to raise its "climate friendly" image in recent months, but it's concerned about the potential impact huge solar power arrays on Western lands could have on national parks.
In a story first appearing this past weekend under Rita Beamish's byline at The Associated Press, and picked up today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Pacific West Region Director Jon Jarvis is quoted in a memo (attached below) that expresses his concerns over how such arrays could threaten the already-meager groundwater supplies for parks.
"The NPS asserts that it is not in the public interest for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) 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."
Water is needed for solar power systems as a cooling agent. Of course, it's also needed for riparian areas, wildlife in general, and the overall ecosystem health. In Death Valley National Park, water can be scarce, and any drop in groundwater that affects water sources that are home to the rare pupfish that live in the park could be the last straw for their survival.
According to PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, "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." (See attachment below)
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," says the group. "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."