Renewable Energy in the California Desert: Mechanisms for Evaluating Solar Development on Public Lands (2010)

Client Organization: 
The Wilderness Society
Project Location : 
Summary of Project Idea: 

This project aims to provide The Wilderness Society (and interested stakeholders) with a series of analyses and accompanying tools for evaluating proposed utility-scale solar energy facilities in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of California. The overall goal is to develop recommendations and guidelines that will enable TWS and other stakeholders to comprehensively evaluate potential impacts of utility-scale solar developments on the California Desert. The project spans six different focus areas: (1) ecological impacts of solar development on species, natural communities, and landscape-scale ecological processes; (2) economic analysis and distributed generation case study; (3) GIS spatial analysis of site suitability; (4) evaluation of the solar-permitting process and policy incentives/disincentives for solar development on public lands; (5) socioeconomic impact analysis, stakeholder survey, and case study; and, (6) technology impacts on the environment and resource and infrastructure needs of proposed technologies.


Skills/Expertise Needed: 

A successful team would include students with skills and expertise in the following subject areas: wildlife biology, GIS, economics, local, state and federal land use policy, renewable energy technology, climate change, and communications.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Environmental Informatics
Sustainable Systems
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Students can expect to develop skills and knowledge in renewable energy development and land use policy. The expertise they will gain from this project will be transferable to jobs in the renewable energy, land conservation advocacy, and climate change fields. Students will make valuable connections with federal land managers, renewable industry experts, and the conservation community. Their research and materials will be used directly to influence land use decisions in California and west-wide. They may expect to be called upon to present their findings to land managers, members of the conservation community, and concerned citizens.

Funding Sources: 

Society has budgeted funding for this project. Funding will cover student’s expenses to travel to California for site visits and meetings with California based agency personnel and industry representatives.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

The final product will include a written report of results and conclusions. However, students may also choose to develop fact sheets, maps, talking points, press releases, and letters-to-the-editor describing the benefits associated with properly siting renewable energy and transmission.

San Francisco
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Steve Yaffee
Contact Phone: 
Contact e-mail: 
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Jesse Fernandes, MUP Land Use and Environmental Planning
  • Natalie Flynn, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Samantha Gibbes, MS Environmental Informatics
  • Matthew Griffis, MS Environmental Policy and Planning/Conservation Biology
  • Takahiro Isshiki, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Sean Killian, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Laura Palombi, MBA/MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Nerissa Rujanavech, MS Conservation Biology/Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Sarah Tomsky, MS Conservation Biology/Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Meredith Tondro, MS Sustainable Systems/Environmental Policy and Planning
Matt Dietz, Ecologist, The Wildnerness Society (SNRE alum)
Project Status: 
Past Project