Interior issues final plan for solar energy on public lands

Solar energy zones in six western states that have been finalized by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Oct. 12. The program is intended to spur development of solar projects initially on 285,000 acres administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development provides a blueprint for utility-scale solar energy permitting in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The final PEIS was released in July.

“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” said Secretary Salazar, who signed today’s Record of Decision at an event in Las Vegas, Nevada with Senator Harry Reid. “This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs.”

The Solar PEIS establishes an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs), totaling about 285,000 acres of public lands, that will serve as priority areas for commercial-scale solar development. Additional zones could be added. Projects in the designated areas could reach 2.37 GW.

The program establishes review on a case-by-case basis for possible solar projects outside SEZs on about 19 million acres in “variance” areas.

The document was endorsed by at least one environmental organization.     

“This federal solar plan is an important step forward in how energy can be smartly developed on our public lands,” said Michael Powelson, The Nature Conservancy, North American Director of Energy Programs.  “The Nature Conservancy commends the Departments of Interior and Energy and the Bureau of Land Management for their commitment to find workable solutions that support renewable energy goals and protect the needs of people and nature.”

Since 2009, Interior has authorized 33 renewable energy projects, including 18 utility-scale solar facilities, seven wind farms and eight geothermal plants, with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure.