April 1, 2009 / 7:28 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. groups say vast areas off-limits to clean energy

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Environmental groups on Wednesday released maps of the U.S. West with vast areas that they said should be off-limits for renewable energy projects.

Power-generating windmill turbines form a wind farm on Backbone Mountain near Thomas, West Virginia August 28, 2006. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Barack Obama backs plans to ramp up the country’s renewable energy infrastructure, but environmentalists fear that a boom in solar and wind energy could endanger wildlife.

By showing where development should not go, The Path to Green Energy project “is intended to be very favorable to mapping the path to green energy,” said Phil Kavits, spokesman for the National Audubon Society, which issued the maps along with the National Resources Defense Council.

The western United States is home to sunny deserts and windy plains — but also many endangered or threatened species.

The maps can save time and energy for developers in the sitting and permitting process, said Johanna Wald, senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council.

“Developers have regularly come to me and said please, tell me where we should not go,” said Wald.

The maps cover 13 Western states and show legally prohibited sites, such as national parks, and areas that are key wildlife habitats — where environmentalists might put up a fight with developers.

For instance, Audubon has mapped breeding areas for sage-grouse in Wyoming.

Wald cautioned that the maps were only a first step for developers and that other areas could be declared off limits. “We are not greenlighting development in areas that are left on our map,” Wald said.

In March, Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would introduce legislation to protect 600,000 acres of former railroad lands from development, setting the stage for a potential battle with developers.

The maps were developed with funds from Google Inc's philanthropic arm, google.org. They can be found here and work with the Google Earth program.

Reporting by Peter Henderson and Bernie Woodall; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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