Army releases review related to streamlining of solar permitting

The U.S. Department of the Army will announce in the Dec. 2 Federal Register that it has completed a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for construction, operation, and maintenance of solar photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy projects on Army installations and is making the PEA and a draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FNSI) available for public comment.

The draft FNSI incorporates the PEA, which does not identify any significant environmental impacts from the proposed action or any of the alternatives. The draft FNSI concludes that preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) is not required, and therefore will not be prepared. The PEA is programmatic and nationwide in scope.

For years, the Army has analyzed and implemented solar PV projects at Army installations across the country. In the PEA, the Army leveraged this experience with the goal of streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act process for future solar PV proposals, as appropriate, in a manner consistent with Council on Environmental Quality and Department of the Army regulations.

The public comment period will go for 30 days beyond Dec. 2.

The proposed action is to construct, operate, and maintain solar PV arrays and/or ancillary power systems on Army installations, to include U.S. Army Reserve facilities, Army National Guard sites, and joint bases managed by the Department of the Army. The proposed action includes, for those solar PV projects where the existing infrastructure is insufficient, constructing (or upgrading) and maintaining the associated infrastructure required for the transmission and management of the generated electricity to the electric grid. Associated infrastructure includes but is not limited to electricity transformers, transmission and distribution lines, and sub or switching stations; as well as ancillary power control systems such as energy storage systems, micro-grid components, and back-up power generators.

The proposed action may include real estate actions on Army lands where the projects could be funded and constructed by the Army, funded through a third party Power Purchase Agreement utilizing a lease of Army or Joint Base land to an independent power producer or the local regulated utility company, or funded via some other relationship with a private or public entity.

The projects being evaluated and analyzed would generally range from approximately 10 MW to 100 MW per site; however, the projects outside of this MW range (e.g., less than 10 MW) are inclusive in this proposed action.

The alternatives considered and analyzed in the PEA are the No Action alternative and three action alternatives, which are to implement the proposed action on greenfield sites (Alternative 1), on previously developed sites (Alternative 2), and on or over structures or impervious surfaces, such as buildings and carports (Alternative 3). Installations may choose any or all of the action alternative approaches to solar PV.

The goal of this programmatic approach is to streamline the NEPA process for the construction, operation, and maintenance of solar PV renewable energy projects by providing installations with sufficient detail about environmental impacts on resources to enable them to tier off of the PEA, as appropriate. Tiering from this PEA would avoid or reduce the costs of repetitive, similar analyses, and allow the Army to focus resources on only those site-specific environmental issues that merit a deeper analysis. Installations tiering from the PEA would use the checklist contained in the PEA to identify site-specific NEPA requirements. Where further analysis would be required to meet site-specific NEPA requirements, the PEA may still be used for tiering, allowing the installation to focus on those resources which require site-specific analysis.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.