The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced key milestones in implementing the Western Solar Plan with the release of mitigation strategies that will expedite development of solar energy zones in Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.
The strategies apply a “landscape-level” approach to managing development in designated areas, known as Solar Energy Zones or SEZs, on public lands, BLM said in a March 2 news release. They identify natural, cultural and human resources that could be affected by potential solar development, as well as ways to mitigate any unavoidable impacts off-site.
The strategies provide certainty to potential project developers by recommending a per-acre fee that would fund off-site mitigation measures and streamline environmental review for individual projects within the zones.
The BLM is committed to facilitating responsible solar energy development on public lands in the right places and in the right ways through implementation of the Western Solar Plan,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “These strategies represent a win-win for the environment and renewable energy development by taking stock of potential impacts upfront and identifying appropriate offsets, saving time and preventing costly do-overs late in the process. Solar energy development is a promising resource for Western states and counties, and the BLM is committed to moving forward with smart development of this resource.”
Solar Energy Zones were established in BLM’s Western Solar Plan for solar energy development, which was finalized in 2012. The plan provided a blueprint for utility-scale solar energy permitting in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah by establishing zones with access to existing or planned transmission, incentives for development within those areas, and a process through which to consider additional zones and solar projects.
The strategies released today build upon the success of the BLM’s first regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone in Clark County, Nevada. That effort led to the first successful Solar Energy Zone auction, which brought in $5.8m for the U.S. Treasury, and helped the agency approve projects in half the normal time.
The latest announcement includes the release of final strategies for three SEZs in Arizona (Yuma, La Paz and Maricopa counties) and one in Lincoln County, Nevada. The Nevada SEZ — the 25,069-acre Dry Lake Valley North – is the largest of five SEZs in that state, capable of producing up to 4,000 MW of renewable energy. Also released today is the draft mitigation strategy for three SEZs on BLM-managed land in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.
Release of the strategies follows extensive public outreach and multi-stakeholder workshops held in each respective state. The strategies are not National Environmental Policy Act documents or decisions. Rather, they are strategy documents that will help inform analyses of specific solar project proposals. The strategies are available by going to the home pages of each BLM State Office: Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada.
The final strategies are effective immediately; the public will have 45 days to comment on the draft Colorado Solar Regional Mitigation Strategy. For additional information or to submit a comment, please contact Nancy Keohane at 719-269-8531 or email comments to SolarMitigation@blm.gov.
The BLM expects to release the final strategy for Colorado in the spring.