Laying the Groundwork for Successful Solar
The BLM manages more than 19 million acres that have excellent potential for solar energy, but not all of those acres are suitable for utility-scale development. To determine where to start looking, the BLM analyzed the lands using a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision was a multi-year effort involving public participation and input from Tribes, state and local governments, and other agencies and stakeholders. The planning effort focused on identifying locations on BLM lands that have excellent solar resources, good energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with natural, social, and cultural resources.
Through the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, and Record of Decision the BLM designated 285,000 acres of Solar Energy Zones (now referred to as designated leasing areas) where development would be prioritized. The agency also identified another approximately 19 million acres of public lands with solar energy potential outside these designated leasing areas in six southwestern states: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.
Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan
In 2016, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan was developed to advance federal and State of California natural resource conservation goals and other federal land management goals, and to facilitate the timely and streamlined permitting of renewable energy projects in the Mojave and Colorado/Sonoran Desert regions of Southern California.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan replaces the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement within the planning area (California Desert District, Bishop Field Office, and Bakersfield Field Office). Specifically, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Land Use Plan Amendment defined and identified:
- 388,000 acres of Development Focus Areas (including the Solar Energy Zones identified in the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that were carried forward in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan), areas with substantial energy generation potential, access to existing or planned transmission, and low resource conflicts.
- 40,000 acres of Variance Process Lands where renewable energy development may be considered and could be approved without a plan amendment.
Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project
In 2013, the Restoration Design Energy Project was developed to identify geographic areas within Arizona that are best suited for renewable energy development, establish land reuse goals, and identify design features to protect resource values and uses. The Restoration Design Energy Project tiers to the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and the planning area includes BLM-administered lands within Arizona. Specifically, the Restoration Design Energy land use plan defined and identified:
- 192,100 acres of Renewable Energy Development Areas, areas where solar and wind energy development is likely to be compatible with resource objectives.
- the 2,500 acre Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone, where utility-scale solar energy development may be considered and could be approved without a plan amendment.
As technology has advanced, solar deployment continues to become economical in areas outside the original six southwestern states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. As a result, the BLM is receiving applications for proposed solar developments in states such as Idaho, Wyoming and processes them in accordance with local land use plans.