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16 June 2013



First Church sees the light and it is solar-powered BY ADELE FLAIL

ne congregation here in Utah is already providing a model for what we may see as more and diverse people of faith organizing to protect the environment. The First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, located at 569 South and 1300 East, has already embraced the need for action, according to the Church’s


minister of over 26 years, Reverend Tom Goldsmith. With respect for the ‘interdependent web’ of life written into the Unitarian Universalist principles, it is perhaps no surprise that a congregation of this faith has already moved from principle into action; according to Goldsmith, “We should have focused [on climate change] decades ago, but we really have our backs up against the wall to embrace climate change as the biggest spiritual issue we are facing: Life as we know it in great peril, and we need to wake up to this fact and embrace the needed changes that must take place if we’re going to have a world for our children and future generations.” The First Church is working on multiple fronts: They have 11 foodproducing beds in their community

garden (funded in part in past years by a Slow Food Utah micro-grant). In May they voted unanimously to divest the Church’s endowment of any assets currently related to the fossil fuel industry. Rev. Goldsmith attributes some of the renewed commitment to parishioner Tim DeChristopher’s activism and commitment to the cause. Goldsmith affirms that DeChristopher, and the congregation’s experience supporting him through his ordeal, “has catapulted the whole congregation into a state of alert—we embrace the environmental issues as a complete congregation with the utmost intensity and seriousness.” Joan Gregory, co-coordinator with the Church’s Environmental Ministry also notes DeChristopher’s action as a “tipping point for the whole congregation.” Members are not shy

when it comes to activism. Most recently the First Unitarian Church lists among the organizers for Peaceful Uprising’s Utah Tar Sands Action Camp, occurring next month— an event specifically organized after legal efforts to stop the project failed. (TINYURL.COM/ PEACEFULUPRISINGACTIONCAMP) And when it comes to the day-today aspects of environmental protection, the Church’s commitment is out front—literally—for all to see. “We put 30,000 watts of solar onto the church. Renewable energy is so much part of the solution, and we’re working to show how the changes we make right now can make a big difference.” Last summer, the 124 panels were added to the roof with the help of an anonymous donation, as well as with a grant from the Rocky Mountain Blue Sky Program.


Urban solar The feds are proposing utility-scale solar on public lands; but what about rooftops on homes and warehouses and on already-disturbed sites? BY AMY BRUNVAND n October 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a record of decision creating a program for utility-scale solar energy on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. This sounds like a positive step in the right direction toward a clean energy future, but there is a catch. Most of the Solar Energy Zones (SEZ) identified by the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) are located in undeveloped desert areas. Large-scale solar development requires essentially the same kind of surface disturbance as strip mining — scraping the ground flat and wiping out whatever plants, animals, agriculture, recreation or other users inhabit the area in order to install an array of solar panels. That’s not to mention constructing new transmission lines to carry the power generated. The area of impact is not small either. Seventeen designated Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) would eat up about 285,000 acres of desert public


lands. The program also keeps the door open to solar projects outside of SEZs on about 19 million additional acres. In Utah, the three SEZ areas total 18,658 acres in the southwest desert near Cedar City: Escalante Valley, Milford Flats South and Wah Wah Valley. These areas are habitat to a variety of desert animals including the endangered Utah prairie dog, sage grouse and spadefoot toad. The Utah SEZ areas are generally “low conflict” with regard to wilderness values, critical wildlife habitat and protected areas, acccording to the Wilderness Society. But that’s not true in other states, especially in the Mojave Desert of California where SEZ areas overlap with proposed wilderness, wildlife and recreation and are generating tremendous public controversy. Given the public outcry in California, it’s reasonable to ask whether utility-scale solar is even the best strategy for a clean energy transition. A 2011 report from Solar Done Right, a coali-

tion of scientists and public land activists, questions the whole premise of large scale “greenfield” solar development. The report, “U.S. Public Lands Solar Policy: Wrong From the Start,” points out that “unlike other forms of energy extraction, concentrating solar development entails use of as much as 100% of the surface of a site. Environmental impacts will endure for decades to centuries, and the prospects for restoration are purely speculative.” The report says that SEZ areas should at least consider the presence of endangered species and require technologies that reduce the environmental footprint. “By offering up public resources, the BLM is subsidizing the same energy interests that have profited by oil and gas development on public lands and waters (BP, Chevron),” according to the report. “Taxpayer-funded subsidies in the form of cash grants and federal loan guarantees are going to the same financial players that helped bring the country to the edge of financial meltdown

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