Oct 12 (Reuters) - A top U.S. solar industry organization on Thursday said it had reached a wide-ranging agreement with environmental, conservation, farm and tribal groups, aimed at reducing conflicts over where to build big solar energy facilities.
The deal between the Solar Energy Industries Association, The Nature Conservancy and nearly two dozen other parties comes as developers of large solar projects needed to meet the nation's clean energy goals are encountering permitting delays and pushback in rural America.
The industry's sprawling projects have generated concerns about about esthetics, harm to property values, loss of arable land and threats to wildlife habitats, among others.
The collaboration agreement followed a 20-month process convened by Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment, the groups said in a statement. They billed the news as a turning point in resolving conflicts over solar, which is expected to increase five fold over the next decade.
"As the solar and storage industry grows, it's critical that we prioritize local engagement," SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.
The agreement establishes six working groups to address issues including community engagement, tribal relations, policy solutions and technologies that enable solar and farming in the same location. The groups will seek to develop best practices that solar companies and local officials can use to plan projects.
"While responsible developers typically seek to avoid, minimize or offset impacts, the parties acknowledge that there is no such thing as impact-free energy development," the agreement states.
Solar project developers that joined the agreement include EDP Renewables, Intersect Power, Invenergy, Lightsource bp, Pine Gate Renewables and energyRe. Other parties include the American Farmland Trust, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, North American Indian Center of Boston and National Wildlife Refuge Association.
Stanford is working on another collaborative process to address challenges facing electricity transmission development for clean energy sources. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio)