America has great advantages as it faces an urgent need to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and a lower carbon future, including enormous renewable energy resources and a vast public and private land base to develop and deliver that clean, inexhaustible energy. This transformation will mean greater energy security and a more sustainable and prosperous economic future. Yet getting to that future will test our resolve and ingenuity. And getting there while treating our land resources in ways that sustain rather than deplete and degrade them will test our wisdom.
This challenge is already beginning to unfold in America’s desert Southwest, which is home to some of the best solar resources in the world as well as vast landscapes that are ecological treasures and fragile wildlife habitats.
The federal Bureau of Land Management and the California Energy Commission have since mid-summer been feverishly paving the way for a renewable energy construction boom in southern California and Nevada. They are in a race to meet an end-of-year deadline for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A flurry of final and near-final approvals for nine utility-scale solar power projects will add more than 4,000 megawatts of clean electricity to the United States’ electric power system when construction of the plants is completed over the next several years. That is about seven times the amount of concentrated solar power currently in operation worldwide as of mid-2009 and roughly the equivalent of four nuclear power plants. It is enough to power more than one million homes.
The clean power surge getting underway this year in the desert Southwest is a watershed moment in the transition to a renewable energy and lower carbon future—and a vivid demonstration of how changes in land use can further that transition. The United States has a vast geography that, with smart and resourceful land-use policies, can help accelerate the growth of clean renewable energy, reduce global warming pollution, and still protect treasured public lands and wildlife.
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