|The Origins of Smart from the Start|
In the summer of 2008, the Nevada Wilderness Project began to refine its mission to address renewable energy development on public lands in our state. As our ideas about how we wanted to see this new energy economy come to Nevada began to gel, we borrowed a term we had heard in connection with various school programs around the country: "smart from the start."
It stuck. We decided that using the phrase "smart from the start" was a good way to begin describing how we envisioned renewable energy development unfolding in the West. The phrase helped us talk about the complexities around utility-scale renewable energy development on Nevada's public lands, complexities that boiled down to an over-arching question: How do we pursue renewable energy development on public lands and protect the wild places we love? Doing it in a way that was “smart from the start” became the answer. Here's how we began:
Understanding the Challenge
Solving the climate crisis should not exacerbate the biodiversity crisis.
* The climate crisis requires immediate increases in energy efficiency, decreased energy consumption, and development of renewable energy sources.
* Development of suitable renewable projects on public lands is inevitable in order to dramatically reduce emissions by 2030.
* As public lands and wildlife habitat leaders, we are accountable for delivering projects that dramatically reduce emissions while protecting and enhancing biodiversity.
The American West is about to be transformed by yet another development binge.
* In 2008, eight of eleven western states had laws requiring utilities to generate up to 25% of their electric power with renewable energy by 2025, and it was reasonable to project that the region may quadruple its renewable energy production in the next decade.
* These developments must be accompanied by a significant expansion in transmission infrastructure, as a means of bringing utility-scale wind, solar and geothermal projects to market.
* The combined result will be a significant increase in wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal power plants and power lines across the West.
While conservationists applaud the shift to renewable energy, the potential for such rapid growth has led to legitimate calls for caution.
* A renewable energy “land rush” is rolling across the West to secure the best locations for wind and solar development. We began our "smart from the start" discussions in 2008. By December 2009, Nevada alone had 88 wind and solar permit applications covering 575,010 acres. Adding geothermal, the total came to 189 permit applications covering 969,774 acres.
* With acreage figures so large, many people fear that massive landscapes will be damaged or lost. With no limits on the acreage figures tossed about in public, hyperbole becomes commonplace.
* While only a fraction of this acreage is likely to be developed, it is clear that impacts from this energy transformation are inevitable and that some proposed locations for renewable energy are better than others.
Turn conflict into smart renewables and enhanced habitat protection.
* There is an immediate opportunity to proactively engage in the “smart from the start” development of the West’s renewable energy resources.
* The smart from the start approach recognizes that to gain the benefits of renewable energy sources and to reduce climate change impacts, there is no way around the fact that renewable energy generation and transmission impacts will occur in some places and in some fashion.
* This is a new and difficult framework for the environmental community because it acknowledges that there will inevitably be some land-disturbing activities that are necessary to achieve the greater-good benefits associated with renewable energy development. We were--and continue to be--clear-eyed about the fact that some public lands that people hold dear will be lost to vast energy development.
We designed our Smart from the Start approach to:
* Help remove fear from the siting process for renewable energy development. Without a clear target or a clear sense of how much land is involved, many participants assume the worst. Our work can place borders on these discussions, delegitimizing hyperbole in the process.
* Build accountability into the siting process. Our process assumes, as a price of admission, that all credible participants must be willing to say “Yes” to some projects. Without this agreement, there is insufficient pressure within the conservation community to actively support specific renewable energy developments.
* Move swiftly and credibly as a means of modeling behavior for Western public lands and energy advocates. In order to do so, we propose to set both renewable energy and land protection targets for the West, and test-run those targets in the state of Nevada.
Our early work to identify and pick apart the challenge of how to reap the benefits of renewable energy develop and protect wildlands resulted in us adding the phrase, “smart development of renewable energy” to our mission statement in 2009. We decided early on that NWP should be a catalyst for "smart development of renewable energy" on public lands in Nevada - to fight climate change, protect wildlife habitat, encourage energy independence, and create jobs. You can read about our progress here.