An approach to enhance the conservation-compatibility of solar energy development

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Abstract

The rapid pace of climate change poses a major threat to biodiversity. Utility-scale renewable energy development ( > 1 MW capacity) is a key strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but development of those facilities also can have adverse effects on biodiversity. Here, we examine the synergy between renewable energy generation goals and those for biodiversity conservation in the 13 M ha Mojave Desert of the southwestern USA. We integrated spatial data on biodiversity conservation value, solar energy potential, and land surface slope angle (a key determinant of development feasibility) and found there to be sufficient area to meet renewable energy goals without developing on lands of relatively high conservation value. Indeed, we found nearly 200,000 ha of lower conservation value land below the most restrictive slope angle ( < 1%); that area could meet the state of California's current 33% renewable energy goal 1.8 times over. We found over 740,000 ha below the highest slope angle ( < 5%) - an area that can meet California's renewable energy goal seven times over. Our analysis also suggests that the supply of high quality habitat on private land may be insufficient to mitigate impacts from future solar projects, so enhancing public land management may need to be considered among the options to offset such impacts. Using the approach presented here, planners could reduce development impacts on areas of higher conservation value, and so reduce trade-offs between converting to a green energy economy and conserving biodiversity. © 2012 Cameron et al.

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Cameron, D. R., Cohen, B. S., & Morrison, S. A. (2012). An approach to enhance the conservation-compatibility of solar energy development. PLoS ONE, 7(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038437

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