Thursday, April 11, 2013
Greetings from George Washington Law School where the 2013 J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Conference is wrapping up. Entitled Laying the Foundation for a Sustainable Energy Future: Legal and Policy Challenges, there has been an impressive array of panelists from industry, governements, NGOs, and academia.
My co-athour Amy Morris (of Aspen Environmental Group) and I presented some of our work on the land use tradeoffs involved in renewable energy projects. We have been looking at these issues through the lens of solar projects in California, but the issues come up in many contexts. To give you some broad strokes of the project: In California, we see development of main types of projects--utility scale and distrbuted generation. The large utility-scale solar facilities in the California desert have been under heavy scrutiny and criticized for their potential impacts on environmental and cultural values. In an effort to avoid pristine desert ecosystems, agencies and environmental groups have been championed the use of distrubed lands. Such lands are not completely controversy-free either. As a threshold question, we have to figure out what lands should qualify as "distrurbed." In some cases, it may be that we are too quick to label something as disturbed. Generally though the big categories are brownfields, former landfills and mines, hardscapes (parking lots and rooftops), and marginal agricultural lands. I won't get into here, but trust me each of those categories has a host of issues surrounding its use.
I've been feeling a little out of my league as the land use lawyer in the midst of the energy experts but have learned a lot and have been impressed with GW's organization of the conference. I also really enjoy attending conferences in Washington DC where the audience is always filled with a great mix of people from agencies and nonprofits.
- Jessie Owley