Parks Chief: No “Free Ride” for Renewables

Renewable energy developers will get no special treatment in the National Parks, according to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis at McDonald Creek, Glacier National Park (Photo: Craig Miller)

Jarvis made the comment yesterday while touring Glacier National Park in Montana, with members of the Society of Environmental Journalists. “Renewables do not get a free ride,” said Jarvis, when asked about how the parks would treat development of renewable energy sources on park property.

Using the backdrop of Glacier National Park, where the remaining 25 glaciers (out of an estimated 150) are expected to disappear by 2030, Jarvis called climate change the most serious threat ever posed to the integrity of the park system.

But Jarvis said the Service is “struggling” internally with issues like the visual impact of large solar arrays, which can also be large water consumers. “Frankly, it’s a conundrum for us,” he said, because often the alternative is large coal-fired power plants, emissions from which degrade air quality and visibility.”We don’t want to stand up and say we’re against all forms of renewable energy that you can see from a national park,” said Jarvis. “But we do believe that it can be mitigated in some ways.”

Jarvis cited original proposals that included running electrical transmission lines through Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. “We were very successful in pushing every one of those out,” said Jarvis, noting that pre-existing transmission lines still transit Lake Mead National Recreation Area, near Las Vegas. “There are challenges,” said Jarvis, “But I think the key is active early engagement.”

At the same time, Jarvis said the Park Service is on an aggressive path to reducing its own carbon footprint, conducting a series of reviews that he said should be completed in 2012. He said all new buildings will comply with at least the LEED “silver” rating for sustainable construction, established by the US Green Building Council, and noted that at Joshua Tree National Park in southern California the Service is producing 60% of its power from solar panels. But, said Jarvis, “You really don’t want to put a large solar array in Glacier National Park.”

Jarvis is a survivor, having come up through the ranks to head the Park Service and locked horns with California Senator Dianne Feinstein over oyster farming near the Point Reyes National Seashore.

  • Kim Williams

    Way to go Jon Jarvis! Solar belongs on rooftops and close to point of use. If we don’t preserve our open space and wildlife areas, what will we be leaving for our children?

  • April Reese

    Nice post. One correction: It’s the Society of Environmental Journalists, not the Society of Environmental Journalism. Thanks.

    • Craig Miller

      Noted and corrected. I guess I should get that right, since I’m a member.