DOE and DOI Propose Solar Energy Zones in Six Western States
The Amargosa Farm Road concentrating solar project in Nevada, approved in November, is typical of the large-scale energy projects that could flourish in the new solar energy zones in six Western states.
DOE and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a comprehensive environmental analysis that identifies proposed "solar energy zones" on public lands in six Western states. Lands that are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah that are most suitable for environmentally sound, utility-scale solar energy production are the focus of the joint announcement on December 16. A 90-day period for public comment on a detailed study, known as the draft Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), began December 17 with the publication of a notice of availability.
Under the study's preferred alternative, DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would establish a new Solar Energy Program that would standardize and streamline the authorization process and would establish mandatory design features for solar energy development on BLM lands. The BLM would establish "solar energy zones" within the lands available for solar development right-of-way applications. These have been identified as most appropriate for development, containing the highest solar energy potential and fewest environmental and resource conflicts. The solar energy zones would provide directed, landscape-scale planning for future solar projects and would allow for a more efficient permitting and siting process. The initiative stems from a June 2009 DOI announcement that tracts of BLM land in the six Western states, known as solar energy study areas, would be fully evaluated for their environmental and resource suitability for large-scale solar energy production.
Much of the BLM-managed 120 million acres of public land in the six states would be excluded from solar energy production, leaving about 22 million acres available for right-of-way applications under the preferred alternative. That includes some 677,400 acres identified as proposed solar energy zones. However, reasonably foreseeable solar energy development is anticipated on only about 214,000 acres of the suitable and appropriate BLM lands. Even as it completes the PEIS, the BLM continues to process existing solar energy applications. The BLM's current solar energy caseload includes 104 active solar applications covering 1 million acres that developers estimate could generate 60,000 megawatts of electricity.
The preferred method of commenting on the draft Solar PEIS is by written submissions using the online form available on the PEIS Web site, where the draft PEIS document is posted. See the DOE press release and the maps of the PEIS areas.