Pros and Cons of Solar Projects on Public Lands

EIA: U.S. Energy Consumption,  Import, Production

Recently, a Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) poll asked 500 Americans if they support solar energy development on public lands.

75 percent of respondents said yes, yes they do. The poll excluded from consideration lands that are already earmarked as national parks ornature preserves. What these results indicate is that Americans see thenecessity for developing domestic clean energy resources, and believethat solar farms on large tracts of uninhabited, sunny land makes goodbusiness sense.

Looking at the numbers can be sobering: in 2008, we imported 57percent of our petroleum, although we were the third largest crude oilproducer in the world (EIA), and while our consumption and petroleum imports continue to rise, ourproduction has been steadily decreasing over time. Turning to domesticrenewable energy production is one piece of the energy puzzle movingforward. Solar farms, with their scalable technology and predictableoutput, are an increasingly attractive investment for energy producers.

But not everyone agrees that using public lands for solar is a goodidea, as we’ve discussed before on this blog. If SEIA had taken a wider population sample,they may have discovered that many people object to solar development on public lands because much of the land in question is desert area in the west and southwest: perhaps counter-intuitively, deserts present one of the most delicate natural ecosystems in the country. Conservationistsargue that protecting native wildlife and water resources should comefirst. One project in the spotlight has been BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave–conservationists got thedeveloper to scale back the project significantly.

Yet this country has energy needs to meet, and quickly. We’re already making great use of wind and hydroelectric power, and those sectorswill also continue to grow. But truly large-scale solar is in some waysin its infancy, and finding large enough tracts of privately held landthat are suitable for solar development isn’t easy. So, what do youthink? Here are the essential pros and cons of developing solar energyprojects on public land.


  • Nearby residents don’t like the aesthetics
  • May endanger delicate ecosystems
  • Relatively inefficient per acre vs. some other technologies
  • Puts water use pressure on previously undeveloped land
  • Red tape hassle: difficult to obtain permitting


  • Uses difficult-to-develop land in low population areas
  • Uses land not earmarked as a natural preserve or nationalpark
  • Supplies large amounts of clean energy
  • Consumes less water than traditional power plants
  • Contributes to energy independence/domestic energy production
  • Provides federal revenues

Solar Projects on Public Lands: Pros & Cons


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