Biomass — Solar — Wind — Geothermal — Transmission — Hydro
BLM Colorado supports the development of renewable energy in the state, including biomass. Biomass is considered any organic material such as non-commercial by-products of forest management projects. BLM Colorado produces thousands of tons of biomass annually through various forestry, fuel hazard reduction, and range improvement projects. Examples include timber sales and mechanical treatments of small diameter trees to reduce fuels. However, much of the biomass produced is left on-site in the form of chips or piles of woody material that have been little-used due to limited demand in Colorado. With the development of new pellet plants in Colorado, more facilities plan on using biomass for heating and blending wood with coal for power generation.
Solar radiation availability in the Southwest is some of the best in the world, and the BLM manages 30 million acres of public lands with solar potential. Since 2009, the Department of Interior has authorized 18 utility-scale solar facilities, although none have been approved in Colorado.
The BLM has been working with the Department of Energy (DOE) on the preparation of a joint Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development on public lands. The BLM and DOE released the Draft Solar PEIS in December 2010, and in response to the over 80,000 comments received from cooperating agencies and key stakeholders, issued a Supplement to the Draft Solar PEIS in October 2011. The Final Solar PEIS was published in July 2012. On October 12, 2012, Secretary Salazar signed a Record of Decision (ROD) that identified locations on BLM- managed public lands most suitable for solar energy development. These areas are characterized by excellent solar resources, access to existing or planned transmission and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources. The decision includes incorporating land use allocations and programmatic and Solar Energy Zone specific design features into 89 BLM land use plans in six western states: Arizona,
California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.
Through the ROD, the BLM is replacing certain elements of its existing solar energy policies with a comprehensive Solar Energy Program that would allow the permitting of future solar energy projects to proceed in a more efficient, standardized, and environmentally responsible manner.
In Colorado, 13 land use plans were amended to either allow or exclude utility-scale solar development 20 megawatts or higher. Four Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) totaling 16,308 acres were identified that are well suited for utility scale production of solar energy. 95,128 acres were identified as potentially available for development outside of the SEZs and are called variance areas. BLM Colorado now has required programmatic and SEZ-specific design features for solar energy development on public lands to ensure the most environmentally responsible development and delivery of solar energy. Additionally, a regional mitigation plan and strategy for monitoring and adaptive management will be completed for the San Luis Valley’s four SEZs. The plans are a unique approach to mitigating the unavoidable adverse impacts associated with developing and operating utility-scale solar power generation facilities on public lands within SEZs. The approach calls for a more strategic, systematic, and collaborative approach for identifying, implementing, and monitoring the outcomes of off-site mitigation actions.
Notice of Competitive Auction for Solar Energy Development on Public Lands in Colorado:
BLM Colorado State Office will accept competitive bids to select a preferred applicant to submit a right-of-way (ROW) application and a plan of development for solar energy projects on approximately 3,705 acres of public land in Saguache and Conejos counties, Colorado. Details for the October 24, 2013, auction can be found in the Federal Register Notice, published August 16, 2013.
Details about the PEIS can be found on the solar energy development PEIS web page.
For more information about solar energy development on public lands please visit the national solar energy web page.
Wind power is used for practical purposes such as generating electricity, charging batteries, or pumping water. Wind turbines capture the kinetic energy in the wind and convert it into electrical energy. Utility-scale turbines are mounted on tall towers, usually 200 feet or more above the earth's surface where the wind is stronger and less erratic. In utility-scale power applications, multiple turbines are connected to the utility grid to provide electricity when the wind blows.
Although numerous wind energy resources exist in Colorado, no commercial wind facility has been constructed on public lands in the state. Much of the commercial wind-harnessing activity on BLM public lands takes place in California.
The BLM completed a Programmatic Wind Energy Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) in 2005, amending 52 land use plans in nine western states that identified potential development of more than 3,200 megawatts of wind energy on BLM public lands in the next 20 years – enough to provide electricity for nearly 1 million homes each year. For details about the PEIS, please visit the wind energy development Programmatic EIS Information Center .
For more information about wind energy development on public lands please visit the wind energy national web page .
In November 2010, BLM Colorado leased an 800-acre geothermal parcel in Chaffee County to 3E Geothermal, LLC in Colorado Springs during its quarterly oil, gas and geothermal lease sale. The lease sale earned $29,600 in total proceeds, with 49 percent to go to the State of Colorado. A lease is the first step for a company or individual before eventually applying to develop and produce geothermal resources. Additional planning, environmental analysis and public input must occur before drilling can begin.
The Gunnison Field Office received two nominations for geothermal parcels in the Gunnison Basin. The field office is working on an environmental assessment to address if geothermal leasing is appropriate and under what conditions. The first block includes 4,586 acres of BLM land and 400 acres of private land with subsurface federal minerals. The second block includes about 3,765 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. The field office completed an environmental assessment to address if geothermal leasing is appropriate and under what conditions. Concurrently, the Forest Service completed an EA to analyze their proposal to consent to BLM leasing the geothermal resources under the nominated National Forest System lands.
BLM Colorado and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have developed a stipulation and a lease notice to prevent potential injury to senior water right users and protect existing geothermal features. The BLM also worked with the state to develop a Memorandum of Understanding to address areas of overlapping concerns related to both leasing and permitting. Download MOU / Press Release
The BLM and the Forest Service completed a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for leasing geothermal resources on lands they manage. For details about the PEIS, visit the project website . For more information about geothermal leasing on public lands please visit the National BLM web page .
In February 2012, BLM Colorado leased 2 geothermal parcels in Gunnison County to Double Heart Lodge, LLC during its quarterly oil, gas and geothermal lease sale. The lease sale earned $33,716 in total proceeds.
New electric transmission lines are being proposed in Colorado to accommodate additional electricity generation capacity for the next several decades, including new renewable generation and improved reliability to reduce congestion on the grid.
Large (345kV and higher) right-of-way electric transmission applications within the state, proposed to cross public lands, include:
- TransWest Express, a TransWest Express, LLC project, is a 725-mile, 600kV DC transmission project from south central Wyoming to southeast Las Vegas. The BLM and Western Area Power Administration are joint lead agencies on this multi-agency project. Public scoping meetings occurred spring 2011 in Colorado. The project plans to provide 3,000 megawatts of capacity by 2015. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) published July 3, 2013. The public comment period ends Sept. 30, 2013.. Additional information can be found at the TransWest Express Transmission Line Project website.
- Energy Gateway South, a PacifiCorp (dba Rocky Mountain Power) project, is a 350-400 mile, 500 kV AC transmission project originating near Medicine Bow, Wyoming and terminating near Mona in central Utah. The BLM is the lead agency on this multi-agency project. Public scoping meetings occurred spring-summer 2011 in Colorado. When completed, this project will transmit up to 1,500 megawatts of electricity. The draft is scheduled for public review in February 2014. The estimated completion date for the final Environmental Impact Stat is expected fall 2014. Additional information can be found at the Energy Gateway South Transmission Line Project website.
- Zephyr, a Duke American Transmission Company project, is a 725-900 mile, 600kV DC transmission project from Chugwater, WY to Eldorado Valley, NV. The BLM is the lead agency on this multi-agency project. Applicant is currently refining route alternatives and anticipates public outreach meetings January to spring 2013.
A total of 251 potential BLM sites were identified and assessed for hydropower potential in Colorado. These sites are predicted to have capacities ranging from 0.5 kilowatts to 125 megawatts, with most sites having capacities less than 5 megawatts. New hydropower facilities may directly or indirectly affect BLM administered lands, either through land exchanges, rights-of-way actions, or alterations in stream flow and riparian habitat. Even though hydropower provides a clean source of energy, there are potential environmental impacts. Hydropower projects have the potential to alter stream temperature, flow, and aquatic and riparian habitats. Project proponents that want to develop such facilities that may affect BLM administered lands must complete the appropriate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis to address cumulative effects.
Hydropower is created by running water from a reservoir through a hydraulic turbine that spins and drives a generator shaft to create electricity. The distance between the water’s sources to its outflow (called the “head”) is a major factor when determining a site’s potential for hydroelectric generation. The greater the elevation change, the greater the potential for power generation. Hydropower facilities are useful for power regulation purposes (keeping supply and demand in balance), and restoring a grid after a blackout. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “large hydropower” refers to facilities that have an energy generation capacity of more than 30 megawatts. Unlike small scale hydro, large facilities are typically more capital-intensive and require the construction of some, if not all, of the following: dams, impoundments, powerhouses, and transmission lines.