Smart from the Start Planning Pays Off for Renewable Energy

New planning tools help clean energy and conservation succeed in the desert Southwest.
Sonoran pronghorn buck
Credit: Greg Joder, AZGFD

Transmission lines are big, and they are long. They have considerable impacts and for many years little thought went into routing them to avoid conflicts with natural resources and other public values. The shortest line from Point A to Point B was the preferred route for any given line.

All that has changed in recent years thanks to pioneering work by environmental advocates engaged in multiple planning forums across the West. In one of these efforts, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has designated corridors that are appropriate for the development of transmission lines. These corridors provide low conflict routes that can help deliver clean energy from (often remote) wind and solar projects to population centers where the energy is needed.

The routes—known as the Westwide Energy Corridors (WWEC), or 368 Corridors—weren’t low conflict in their first incarnation. A number of environmental organizations, including NRDC, litigated the first round of designations on the grounds that they fell short on linking to renewable energy resources, rather than just dirty fuels. They also failed to avoid high conflict locations such as important habitat and wilderness quality lands.

But now the issues with the original corridors are being addressed and, in the meantime, the BLM just demonstrated that the WWEC can be very useful tools for “smart from the start” siting of an interstate transmission line. The BLM has just released a draft environmental review document for the Ten West Link transmission line with the preferred route running through a WWEC corridor along the I-10 freeway in Arizona and California rather than using the original proposed route through the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

In this instance, the WWEC paralleling the interstate freeway provides a viable, buildable alternative that avoids the unacceptable impacts that would have been incurred had the line run through the wildlife refuge, which is home to numerous important species including endangered Sonoran pronghorn as well as desert bighorn sheep and mountain lions among other species.  

This project is more on the ground proof that planning ahead for clean energy infrastructure—being smart from the start—enables us to build the renewable energy projects we need while protecting our most valuable wild spaces and wildlife.

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