The BLM is updating it Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. To comment, please visit ePlanning.
Climate change concerns, state renewable energy portfolio standards, investment tax credits, technological advances, and decreasing equipment costs are drivers of interest in utility-scale solar energy development on public lands. As a result, we expect that private companies will continue to have an interest in developing this resource on public lands. In fact, we have been approving solar projects since 2010, and as of November 2021 have 37 permitted solar energy projects totaling more than 7 gigawatts of approved capacity.
Across the 245 million acres of public land it manages, the BLM has prioritized a combined total of roughly 870,000 acres for solar energy development within its land use plans. Under a scenario where 8.5 acres is needed to generate 1 megawatt of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels, these prioritized areas could support more than 100 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 29 million homes. In addition to the prioritized areas, the BLM maintains more than 19 million additional acres as open for potential solar development, subject to a variance process.
Solar energy has seen dramatic deployment increases in the United States and worldwide over the past decade. The recent Executive Order 14008 and Energy Act of 2020 have prioritized the BLM’s attention to improving the permitting process to facilitate responsible renewable energy deployment on public lands. Additionally, laws enacted in many western states require energy companies to supply a portion of their energy from renewable sources. As a result, the BLM is seeing continued interest by solar developers to locate projects on public lands.
Solar energy development projects on BLM-managed public lands are authorized as rights-of-way under Title V of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended consistent with appropriate BLM land-use plans. Regulations at 43 CFR 2800 identify requirements for solar development application and permitting. Applications for solar energy uses on public land are subject to paying cost-recovery fees and all proposals are subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act and other applicable laws and regulations.