Why is the BLM involved with renewable energy?
The BLM manages millions of acres of public lands in the California Desert. These lands have some of the highest solar energy potential in the world, and can play a key role in meeting California's clean energy needs. The federal government has prioritized renewable energy on public lands, and the BLM has responded by approving more than a dozen solar and wind projects involving public lands in California between 2010 and early 2012.
Is the BLM proposing these projects?
No. Private companies apply to the BLM to essentially "lease" public lands for a specific period of time, usually 30 years. The BLM reviews these applications and adds requirements to limit environmental impacts. If an application is approved, the private company is responsible for building, operating and decommissioning the project.
Is the BLM using taxpayer money to process these applications?
No. Applicants must pay a processing fee that covers staff time and contract work related to their application.
What is the BLM's involvement once it approves a renewable energy project?
When the BLM approves a project, it includes various requirements that the developer must meet in order to reduce the project's environmental harm. To make sure these requirements are carried out, the BLM or a third party approved by the BLM will be out on the project site to monitor construction. If a third party contractor does the monitoring, the contractor sends regular reports to the BLM. If a serious violation is made, the BLM may halt construction.
What kind of return do the American people get for the use of their public lands?
The BLM requires renewable energy developers to pay rent each year for the use of public lands. This rent is based on the amount of land the project uses and the energy it produces. The money goes to the U.S. Treasury. The BLM also holds a bond to ensure that the public lands can be restored after a project is decommissioned.
Why is the BLM considering such big projects instead of rooftop solar and other "distributed generation?"
Utility scale renewable energy should be considered a partner, rather than a competitor, with small scale or "distributed" renewable energy. Both scales will be needed to meet California's future energy needs. The BLM only has authority over the land it manages, which is appropriate for large scale solar and wind. The state of California, on the other hand, is actively promoting small scale renewable energy, hoping to reach 12,000 megawatts of distributed generation by 2020. The BLM's efforts will work in tandem with the state's to meet California's long term clean energy needs.
What is the BLM doing to ensure renewable energy projects are developed in appropriate places on public lands?
To date, the BLM has considered applications where they have been proposed by private companies. The BLM has issued policy guidance to prioritize applications that will have fewer environmental impacts.
The BLM is also planning for renewable energy, identifying areas that are better suited for development. The BLM has worked with the Department of Energy on a solar energy programmatic environmental impact statement. The plan, finished in late 2012, designated priority zones for solar energy development on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
In addition, the BLM is partnering with other federal and state agencies to develop a Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) for California. The plan will identify low conflict areas for renewable energy that will benefit from an easier permitting process. The plan will also protect important habitat for desert plants and animals. The DRECP's end result will be a roadmap for where development should occur in the desert to ensure California can meet its renewable energy goals with the least environmental harm.
What can I, as a member of the public, do to participate in the process?
The public has opportunities to participate in the BLM's environmental review of renewable energy applications through the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process. For more information on NEPA and public involvement, visit the Council on Environmental Quality's Citizen's Guide to NEPA.
How important is the Solar PEIS and does it conflict with the DRECP at all or not, and if so how?
The Solar PEIS is an important document for the Federal Government and the State of California, because it establishes preferred areas for siting solar energy projects on Public Lands in six western states, including California. This step provides guidance to renewable energy project developers and permitting agencies alike as to where future solar energy projects may be sited to reduce environmental effects and the specific issues to be examined in an analysis of project siting in these identified areas.
The Solar PEIS does not conflict with the DRECP. The Solar PEIS development process and the DRECP Planning effort are designed to complement each other, and information and analyses developed in each process have been continually shared with the other.
Are the areas that the Solar PEIS and the DRECP studying the same or different and if so, how?
The Solar PEIS identifies two Solar Energy Zones (SEZ) in California, the Riverside East SEZ, located in Riverside County, and the Imperial SEZ, located in Imperial County. These areas are included and are being analyzed in the DRECP as potential Renewable Energy Development Focus Areas (DFAs). In addition, the Solar PEIS identifies "Variance Areas" on public lands where developers may request the BLM to consider the development of a solar project outside of a SEZ. DRECP proposes to further analyze the variance areas with updated and more detailed data.
Furthermore, the DRECP is considering locations for non-solar renewable energy technologies - such as wind and geothermal - that are better suited for streamlined biological resource permitting. DRECP is further evaluating public lands and is also considering the suitability of private lands in cooperation with the local counties.
Is the DRECP and Solar PEIS process being done in concert with each other or are they separate processes?
The Solar PEIS development process and the DRECP Planning process are separate efforts, however, they are designed to complement each other. Throughout the development of the Solar PEIS, information and analyses developed in each process have been continually shared with the other. BLM is a primary partner in the development of the DRECP in California and has facilitated this information exchange. In addition, throughout the development of the Solar PEIS, the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) (the State of California Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) Agencies), participated in the Solar PEIS process as cooperating agencies, providing substantial input, review, and comments on the Solar PEIS documents to ensure coordination and compatibility with the DRECP.
What is the next major step/milestone in the DRECP planning process and what will that accomplish?
The next major step for the DRECP is the development of a joint Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR). The EIS/EIR will document the development of potential DFAs and development of potential conservation designs for the DRECP Planning Area. It will present an analysis of proposed DRECP alternatives that evaluates potential effects on existing resources (biological and non-biological resources e.g., recreation) and how each alternative would or would not meet both renewable energy development goals and environmental conservation goals.
The EIS/EIR is expected to be released in summer 2013. It will provide a key point to inform and receive feedback on the DRECP Plan and its potential impacts from stakeholders and the public.
Learn more about the Solar PEIS
Learn more about the DRECP