With over 300 days of sunshine a year in Arizona, it's easy to see why hundreds of thousands of people are attracted to our state. However, our abundant sunlight can do more than just attract visitors - it can renew our economy through the production of solar energy. In fact, the business of turning sunlight and wind into electricity has become one of the state's fastest-growing industries, with numerous renewable-energy companies looking to build power facilities in the state. Some projects, backed by stimulus funding, could even break ground this year if they can meet proper environmental standards.
Arizona is leading the way to ensure that renewable-energy projects are done right. The Arizona division of the Bureau of Land Management has a cutting-edge plan that helps balance our economic needs, energy production and natural resource protection in a sustainable way. The Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project will do two important things: create renewable-energy jobs and revitalize our state's landfills, abandoned mines and polluted industrial sites. By steering renewable-energy projects to these locations, we preserve more pristine state lands, which also support local economies through tourism and outdoor recreation.
For almost two years, the Arizona BLM has been working with landowners, conservation groups and renewable-energy companies, among many others, to nominate degraded sites that could be put to work for renewable-energy development. So far the agency has identified 42 potential "wastelands" totaling 26,000 acres - half of which are on public lands.
Developing these sites would help renewable-energy companies get their projects going quickly. Many of these locations are equipped with pre-existing roads and infrastructure to speed along construction and to keep costs down. They're also near transmission lines and big cities, which could improve their energy efficiency. Because these lands have already been seriously damaged, there are less likely to be unforeseen conflicts with wildlife or other environmental concerns.
Responsible renewable-energy development is a golden opportunity for Arizona. Over the past two years, thousands of our citizens lost their homes and livelihoods. The development of responsible renewable-energy facilities has the potential to put our unemployed engineers, surveyors and builders back to work. But that's not all. Once these facilities are ready to put new clean power into the electricity grid, someone will have to keep them running. That means new job opportunities for managers, technicians, office workers and security crews.
The Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project could be a blueprint for what smart renewable-energy policy should look like. It is the kind of planning we need nationwide if public lands are going to play a successful role in our clean-energy future. I urge the BLM, along with other state and federal agencies, to look to Arizona's plan as a template for our nation's clean-energy future.
Contact U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva through his Web site at grijalva.house.gov