It is a wonder sometimes that new energy infrastructure is ever built.
On a recent walk-through of a new tool devised to help renewable energy projects with permitting challenges that arise in Department of Defense reviews, the overriding impression was one of wonder. Complex maps and layered data showing flight routes, radar line-of-sight limitations and domestic US military installations left surprisingly scant available open land for project development, although projects that lie in restricted areas do get permitted by DoD.
The new online database tool is a product of two years of work by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), developed in response to a system that representatives of the group called “haphazard.”
In the past, DoD was consulted at the end of a series of lengthy local, state and regional permitting processes, when renewable energy project developers were required to obtain approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. A number were confused when high-profile projects were delayed for further review by the Pentagon.
The information to evaluate projects in light of military priorities has always been publicly available to renewable energy project developers, NRDC Senior Scientist Matthew McKinzie told Breaking Energy on a review of the tool he helped devise to avoid the surprises that project developers were facing in the FAA process. The tool he has put together is called the READ-Database for Renewable Energy and Defense Database, and includes a geographic information system (GIS) database that looks to the casual observer like a Google map layered with variously-shaded areas. Click here for the READ-Database.
The shaded areas “[capture] essential DoD activities, including DoD base, testing and training range locations; low-altitude high-speed military flight training routes and special use airspace; and an extensive inventory of weather and air surveillance radars all within the United States,” NRDC said in announcing the new READ-Database tool. The tool, which represents roughly 1800 sites in the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii is available for renewable energy developers who pass an initial utility test by entering information about themselves.
The tool is designed to help guarantee “smart from the start” advance planning for renewable energy projects, many of them in the American West, NRDC Clean Energy Counsel Kit Kennedy told Breaking Energy. The Department of Defense is one of the country’s largest land holders, Kennedy pointed out, and the NRDC worked with a host of groups, including the Western Governors Association, over the two years of development to guarantee a host of stakeholders were represented.
The data included in the new NRDC tool, which will be updated with a 2.0 version in Spring 2012, is designed to be of use to renewable energy projects and cannot be leveraged for any activity that might hinder national security efforts, the organization said.
With renewable energy developers facing everything from noise complaints to the breakdown of financing and political headwinds, the NRDC has given them one less thing to do on their own as they navigate the fiendishly complex permitting process.