The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Sept. 5 Federal Register will announce the availability of a final approval related to the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area (REEA) located in Imperial County, Calif.
Available is the Record of Decision (ROD)/Approved Amendment to the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) Plan for this area. BLM’s California State Director signed the ROD on Aug. 12, which constitutes the BLM’s final decision.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Proposed Plan Amendment (PA) for the REEA analyzed the potential environmental impacts of making available about 20,762 acres of BLM-managed surface lands in the REEA for testing and developing solar and wind energy facilities and for leasing approximately 19,162 acres of federal mineral estate for geothermal energy testing and development near Niland, Calif. The final EIS also analyzed the potential environmental impacts of approving a pending geothermal lease application in the REEA.
The Final EIS/Proposed PA fully analyzed six alternatives. The preferred alternative and the BLM’s final decision is Alternative 6 – “Geothermal Development Emphasis with Moderate Solar Development and No Wind Development.” Selection of this alternative amends the CDCA plan to identify areas in the REEA as suitable for geothermal leasing and development and solar energy development, subject to constraints related to the presence of sensitive resources. Renewable energy development that would require high water usage will not be allowed. The CDCA plan is also amended to identify the REEA as unsuitable for wind energy development.
Additionally, lands east of the Coachella Canal will have a disturbance cap of 10%. BLM lands west of the Coachella Canal are identified as a Solar Energy Zone. Finally, a noncompetitive federal geothermal lease application is approved. However, before development of the lease is authorized, site specific environmental analysis will be required.
Under Alternative 6, a maximum of 29,758 acres (9,066 acres on BLM land) could be developed for solar energy (including an estimated 3,306 MW of power production), and up to 1,026 acres of land could be disturbed for geothermal development (up to three geothermal power plants estimated at 50 MW each could be constructed, for a total of 150 MW).
Two transmission corridors (M and T) cross the West Chocolate Mountains REEA.
- Corridor M is a utility corridor that has always been in the CDCA plan, even after it was amended. There are utility rights of way (ROWs) within Corridor M, and a major ROW includes the Imperial Irrigation District’s 230-kV transmission line. Corridor M crosses the length of the REEA, from the northwest to the southeast, and is adjacent to the East Highline Canal.
- Corridor T was designated as a contingent corridor because of the level of uncertainty associated with any power plants and utilities proposed in the area. Corridor T is an alternative for the transmission of energy generated by either geothermal or conventional power plants, and is improved with existing electric transmission facilities. Corridor T splits off of Corridor M and continues along the east side of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. This ROD makes no changes to these corridors.
BLM noted that it worked with the Marine Corps to make sure this project area can co-exist with a nearby gunnery range.