Solar Energy on Arizona Public Lands: Environmental Impacts and Stakeholder Perspectives
AuthorSittig, Julia Brooke
AdvisorGimblett, Howard R.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractWith America’s recent needs for creating jobs, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and becoming "energy independent" from foreign nations, the large-scale deployment of solar energy projects has been proclaimed a solution for rapidly generating "clean" energy. Federal agencies have been mandated by law to expedite the siting of utility-scale solar energy projects (USSEPs) on public lands. In particular, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has focused on USSEP development by creating a national solar energy program as well as state-specific programs for encouraging USSEP development, and has thus far approved two USSEPs in Arizona. Although operational USSEPs do not emit greenhouse gases, they are not completely benign to the environment. USSEPs incur negative impacts on soils, vegetation, air quality, and other natural and cultural resources. Because USSEPs have the potential to mitigate climate change, yet incur other negative environmental impacts, the reaction of citizen stakeholders such as environmental advocates to public lands USSEP development has been mixed. Environmental advocate groups have both encouraged BLM to build USSEPs, and filed lawsuits discouraging project development. In light of the ability of environmental advocates to influence USSEP development, this study explored the complex opinions of members of environmental organizations, conservation groups, watershed initiatives, and solar industry professionals regarding USSEP development on Arizona public lands. Through a review of relevant literature, a content analysis of BLM environmental review documents, and the distribution and statistical analysis of an opinion survey, the study provides insight into the implications of the current BLM Arizona siting process and specific, up-to-date stakeholder perspectives. The results indicate that while BLM Arizona siting policies do attempt to address environmental concerns, significant concerns about the current USSEP siting process remain, and that environmental advocates' support for public lands USSEPs is lower than their support for renewable energy development in general. Stakeholders reported having low levels of three items: knowledge of current solar technologies, understanding of the current federal USSEP siting process, and confidence that the government will appropriately site solar energy projects. Addressing those items may alleviate tensions between stakeholders and public lands decision-makers, resulting in faster and more environmentally responsible USSEP siting.
Degree ProgramGraduate College