DOI, DOE Blueprint Foresees 23.7 GW of Solar Energy Development on Federal Lands

A Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) released by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Department of Energy (DOE) on Tuesday identifies 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) in six southwestern states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—totaling about 285,000 acres of public lands, as priority areas for utility-scale solar development.

Since 2009, the DOI has approved 17 utility-scale solar energy projects that, when built, will have a nameplate capacity of nearly 5,900 MW. The Solar PEIS will serve as a roadmap for solar energy development by establishing SEZs with access to existing or planned transmission, the fewest resource conflicts, and incentives for development within those zones, the agency said. “The blueprint’s comprehensive analysis will make for faster, better permitting of large-scale solar projects on public lands.”

To date, the Solar PEIS planning effort has focused on identifying locations on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands that are most suitable for solar energy development, areas that are characterized by excellent solar resources, good energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural, and historic resources.

The Final PEIS identifies 17 Solar Energy Zones, with the potential for additional zones through ongoing and future regional planning processes. The blueprint also allows for utility-scale solar development on approximately 19 million acres in “variance” areas lying outside of identified SEZs. The Final PEIS estimates total development of 23,700 MW from the 17 zones and the variance areas.

In support of more detailed system-level analyses of transmission needs, the BLM is engaged in ongoing transmission planning efforts, including through the Transmission Expansion Planning Policy Committee and the Western Electricity Coordination Council’s transmission study.

The July 27 Federal Register Notice of Availability for the Final PEIS will begin a 30-day protest period, after which DOI Secretary Ken Salazar may consider adopting the document through a Record of Decision.

The BLM 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.

Sources: DOI, DOE

—Edited by Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)

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