|What is "Smart from the Start?"|
What is “smart from the start” renewable energy development?
“Smart from the start” renewable energy projects are sited on land that has already been developed or disturbed, on land with low value for wildlife, and are constructed with minimal impacts to cultural or archaeological resources. They are near existing or planned transmission lines. Facilities are built that use appropriate technology (for example, least water-intensive). And planning for a “smart from the start” renewable project is transparent, with early and close cooperation between developers, permitting agencies, local governments, and conservation groups.
A “smart from the start” approach to developing renewable energy projects also looks for additional conservation of habitat and/or creative mitigation that moves beyond “matching” what will be lost to development. Rather, a “smart from the start” approach pursues additional habitat gains. This conservation component may be achieved through an administrative or legislative action that improves designation and management of nearby lands, for example, or by establishing creative mitigation programs based on royalties that come from the sale of that renewable energy that are then spent on restoration or acquisition of additional lands.
Simply put, a “smart from the start” approach to renewable energy results in a good development, additional habitat gains, with both accomplished at the same time.
The Nevada Wilderness Project began crafting a “smart from the start” program in 2008
Being “smart from the start” is the Nevada Wilderness Project’s solution to the challenge of pursuing renewable energy development on public lands and protecting the wild places we love. It is complex and new territory for conservationists, and we have been working to hone our “smart from the start” concept since late 2008.
It began with our observations of the changing political landscape, the urgency of addressing climate change, and our desire to forge new ways of accomplishing meaningful habitat conservation. Click here to learn how we began.
Here are links to media stories referencing “smart from the start.” They tell a story of how the phrase became associated with renewable energy, how it has evolved as a concept used in many different contexts, and who is using it now. Below these links is NWP's story of our on-the-ground successes with a "smart from the start" process, and how we will continue to lead in its application.
In addition, our colleagues at these national organizations, The Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council, devoted space on their websites introducing “smart from the start.” Defenders of Wildlife also wrote a report titled “Making Renewable Energy Wildlife Friendly,” addressing smart from the start concepts.
NWP's Smart from the Start progress since January 2009
Since we began publicly championing a “smart from the start” approach to renewable energy development in early 2009, we have learned a few things. For example, transparency and openness are key to providing as much certainty about a proposed project as possible—certainty for developers who are investing millions, for elected officials concerned about jobs, for agency employees tasked with permitting a project, and certainty for conservationists who want to find solutions for environmental obstacles before they become “hell no” roadblocks.
We have also learned that “smart from the start” is a process, and not a set of cookie-cutter criteria applied to every project. This is critical because it allows us to see greater goals and a bigger vision for a roll-out of renewable energy in the West:
1. The Department of Interior’s announcement to “fast-track” 11 renewable energy project proposals on public lands in Nevada. Click here to learn more about these projects, and how we have applied the “smart from the start” process to them. Not all of them are “smart from the start"—in fact the Spring Valley Wind project is exactly the opposite. Engagement with these projects has allowed us to refine “smart from the start” and recognize its long-term and short-term utility.
2. Construction of the SWIP Transmission line (also called One Nevada). Applying the “smart from the start” process resulted in:
What lies ahead for “Smart from the Start?”
As a phrase, “smart from the start” is catching on nationally, and this is good news. A comprehensive and consistent definition of the phrase will be difficult to attain; there are complex administrative and legislative outcomes at the state and federal levels that can affect a successful "smart from the start" outcome (to wit, the media links above contain different definitions and contexts for "smart from the start").
We need to see several “smart from the start” projects up and running, however, to really measure its success and have benchmarks from which to improve. Passage of the solar royalty legislation will serve as one benchmark. Our work with the developer of the SWIP transmission line(One Nevada) to reroute the line around sage grouse habitat is another example. And NWP will continue to identify other opportunities, including National Conservation Area and Wilderness designations, and administrative mineral withdrawals in conjunction with development proposals to ensure the best "smart from the start" outcomes. It matters to us that these outcomes have both the capacity to generate clean energy and to change the way we seize conservation opportunities.
But here is the powerful reality we face: No matter what "smart from the start" definition is used, public lands that people care about are going to be developed. The fact that distributed generation and effiiciency and consumption must all be primary components of a solution does not alleviate our responsibility--some of us consider it a moral responsibility--to act decisively as public lands leaders. To delay the transition to a clean energy economy because others should go first wastes our leadership potential in a blizzard of process arguments. If we do not act, then climate change will exact its brutal and unyielding force on our lives, and our wild places will be altered in far more dramatic and permanent ways than from the footprint of infrastructure. We will be living caricatures of the proverbial frog in the boiling pot who doesn't realize it until it is too late.
Protecting our Western landscapes and way of life requires money in some areas, new land protections in others, and good science and public education everywhere. But what it most requires of us is to have the courage to change our tactics, our perceptions and our roles to match the massive challenges ahead.