Google Map Created to Guide Siting of Renewables

Environmental groups yesterday released maps suggesting which public lands in the West should be opened to renewable energy and which should be left untouched.

The push to rapidly develop solar, geothermal and wind power projects has environmentalists concerned that the nation’s pristine wilderness lands could become spotted with power plants and strung with transmission lines.

The Path to Green Energy online mapping project, developed with funds from Google Inc’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) philanthropic arm, google.org., will attempt to facilitate consensus in siting decisions.

The new tool will provide industry, conservationists, policy-makers, and concerned citizens instant access to interactive wildlife, habitat and land management maps to guide appropriate site selection for renewable power generation and transmission facilities.

The National Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have joined forces, with support from Google.org Geo Challenge Grants, to create Google Earth maps of 13 states in the western United States.

The maps identify areas where land use is legally restricted. Other data layers highlight areas that should be avoided in energy development, including habitats critically important to wildlife. Users exploring specific areas, such as those proposed for energy development, can easily see how much land is legally off-limits and which of the remaining areas have unique qualities that deserve protection.

“We must strike a winning balance to meet growing energy needs and this project shows we can,” said Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This map demonstrates a way forward for renewable energy development and protection of our wildlife and landscapes across the west.”

Audubon President John Flicker said “This approach can build the broad support needed to give the green light to green energy nationwide by helping to locate wind turbines and other production and transmission facilities in places that minimize negative impacts on birds and wildlife.”

The need for this kind of guidance is growing. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar just ordered the establishment of a federal task force to increase the development and transmission of renewable energy from appropriate public lands. And the Western Governors Association recently unveiled its own maps of draft renewable energy resource zones for public comment as first steps to speed renewable energy development.

“With economic stimulus dollars starting to flow, this project gives us a starting point for ensuring that we’re investing in both the right technology and the right places — places where energy development and wildlife are compatible,” added NRDC’s Beinecke.

Audubon, NRDC and Google plan to expand the new Google Earth maps with additional habitat information and other planning data that will inspire the public to discover and protect the natural areas of the mapped landscapes. They can travel to “Important Bird Areas” critical to the health of avian species or take a closer look at the natural resources that abound in various protected regions. They can also see 15 types of sensitive areas showing different categories of land protection.

The map called "Path to Green Energy" is available at the link below.

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