Biomass — Solar — Wind — Geothermal — Transmission — Hydro
BLM Colorado supports renewable energy development in the state, including biomass. Biomass is made from trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles and leaves. BLM Colorado produces thousands of tons of biomass annually through various forestry, fuel hazard reduction, and range improvement projects. Examples include timber sales, mechanical fuels treatments and rangeland encroachment reduction projects. However, much of the biomass produced is left on-site in the form of chips or piles. Underutilization of biomass in Colorado is due to limited demand. With the development of new plants in Colorado, more facilities plan on using biomass for heating and bio-energy production. BLM Colorado generally offers between 5,000 and 10,000 tons of biomass each year. In Fiscal Year 2014, BLM Colorado offered 8,600 tons of biomass though the Forestry Program and 20,498 tons through the Fuels Program.
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 more than 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, former 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. Another 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.
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 .
The BLM began issuing leases for geothermal development in 1974. In 2012, BLM Colorado leased two parcels for geothermal production totaling 8,353 acres in the Gunnison Field Office. These two parcels are the only authorized leases on public lands within the state of Colorado. In 2012, the BLM released a final environmental assessment and proposed amendment to the 1991 BLM San Luis Resource Management Plan for geothermal energy leasing on BLM-managed lands.
BLM Colorado and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources 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.
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.
- 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.
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.