Administration Maps Solar Energy Development on Public Lands

July 25, 2012

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced on July 24 that in partnership with the Energy Department, it will publish the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development in six southwestern states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The final solar PEIS represents a major step forward in the permitting of utility-scale solar energy on public lands throughout the west.

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. The solar PEIS will serve as a roadmap for solar energy development by establishing solar energy zones, which have access to existing or planned transmission and minimal resource conflicts, and incentives for development within those zones. The blueprint’s comprehensive analysis will make for faster, better permitting of large-scale solar projects on public lands.

These areas 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 (SEZs), totaling about 285,000 acres of public lands, as priority areas for utility-scale solar development, with the potential for creating 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. It also excludes 78 million acres from solar energy development to protect cultural or natural resources. In total, the final PEIS estimates that 23,700 megawatts could be developed from the 17 zones and the variance areas, enough renewable energy to power 7 million U.S. homes.

The July 27 Federal Register Notice of Availability for the Final PEIS will begin a 30-day protest period, after which DOI 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 over 80,000 comments received from cooperating agencies and key stakeholders, issued a supplement to the draft solar PEIS in October 2011. See the Energy Department press release and the solar PEIS.