Evolved Energy Research (EER) modeled the impacts of land-use restrictions on economy-wide decarbonization pathways in eleven Western States to gain insights into questions around siting renewable energy projects while protecting sensitive Natural and Working Lands (NWL). These modeling results, together with geospatial analysis conducted by UC Santa Barbara and Montara Mountain Energy, provide the foundation for The Nature Conservancy’s report Power of Place – West.
In this analysis, EER used the RIO platform to model 19 scenarios and sensitivities to estimate changes in supply-side technology deployment driven by three distinct levels of land use protections, developed in collaboration with our expert geospatial modeling partners. The results of our modeling indicate that:
The Western States can achieve net-zero GHG-emissions by 2050 without siting renewables on the most sensitive natural and working lands.
When comparing the costs of economy-wide decarbonization with and without increased protections on NWL, the cost of the modeled protections is about a 3% increase in the total cost of the energy transition (assuming a high-electrification decarbonization pathway). This is before any environmental values of protected lands are quantified.
Many areas with high-quality wind resources also have high environmental value; thus, increased land use protections yield modest increases in solar deployment closer to load centers and modest decreases in interior wind deployment far from load centers, when compared to decarbonization pathways that only consider existing environmental protections.
Reconductoring of existing high-voltage transmission and expansion of within existing rights-of-way are important components of a least-cost pathway that protects natural lands and minimizes social conflicts.
EER will continue to expand the scope of this work through our involvement in TNC’s forthcoming Power of Place –National study. More granular state-level studies into the land-use implications of pursuing economy-wide net-zero targets in other areas of the country are also forthcoming from EER.