by Michael O’Reilly, Director of Policy and Climate Strategy, The Nature Conservancy

Georgia is growing fast.  To meet the energy needs of our expanding population and economy, electric utilities see large solar arrays as a key source for clean, low-cost energy.  Solar energy is a smart choice for sunny Georgia if we do it in a way that benefits our communities and protects our natural lands and wildlife.

Recognizing the growing demand for solar energy in Georgia, The Nature Conservancy worked with partners to launch a free online tool to help the developers of new large-scale solar facilities identify locations that avoid sensitive lands and habitats.  By selecting sites that avoid environmentally sensitive areas, developers can get new solar facilities up and running with less cost and delay.  

Building on this, our organization has been proud to partner with state and federal agencies, electric utilities, and other conservation groups to develop further guidance for the siting and design of large-scale solar facilities in Georgia.  Working with the Georgia Wildlife Federation, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Power Company, Green Power EMC, and others, this partnership – the Utility-Scale Solar Siting Initiative – recently published “Recommended Practices for the Responsible Siting and Design of Solar Development in Georgia.”  The practices are now a core element of GADNR’s environmental review resources, and Georgia Power has incorporated them into its environmental guidance for developers planning to build new solar energy facilities.  

This collaborative effort by representatives of electric utilities, conservation organizations, and the solar industry will help Georgia expand its use of clean solar power in a way that preserves the natural beauty and resources that we treasure.

Of course, securing a clean energy future that benefits people and wildlife is not just an imperative for Georgia.  At a national scale, The Nature Conservancy partnered with Stanford University and the Solar Energy Industries Association to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to create a new national Solar Uncommon Dialogue Agreement to ensure that the use of solar energy grows in ways that benefit communities, climate, and conservation.  

Where is the best location for solar panels?  My view is that there is still vast untapped potential for placement on rooftops, atop parking lots, and in other locations close to where the energy demand will be greatest.  Other prime locations include landfills, former industrial sites, and other areas that have already been disturbed by previous use.  However, we will also need power from new utility-scale sources.  The creation of these new large-scale facilities should be guided by the resources highlighted above.

Every form of energy comes with advantages and disadvantages.  As we continue shifting toward cleaner forms of energy, we must do so in ways that maximize the benefits for us all and minimize any adverse effects.  We can do this.  We succeed by working together. 

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