• BLM Expands Solar Initiative to Make Permitting of Solar Projects on Federal Lands More Efficient
  • August 3, 2009
  • Law Firm: Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP - Denver Office
  • On June 30, 2009, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a “Notice of Availability of Maps and Additional Public Scoping for Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) To Develop and Implement Agency-Specific Programs for Solar Energy Development; Bureau of Land Management Approach for Processing Existing and Future Solar Applications.”  The published notice followed announcements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of the expanded solar initiative at a press conference on June 28, 2009, in Las Vegas.

    The Federal Register notices the availability of maps designating Solar Energy Study Areas composed of 670,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management-administered land located in Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, California, New Mexico and Utah.  Of that, 20,911 acres in four areas are located in Colorado in the San Luis Valley. See http://solareis.anl.gov/documents/maps/studyareas/Solar_Study_Area_CO_Ltt_6-09.pdf.

    These Solar Energy Study Areas will be fully evaluated by the BLM for their environmental and resource suitability for large-scale solar energy production.  By performing the environmental studies up front in a landscape-scale planning initiative, the BLM hopes to be able to fast track proposals in these areas, and companies that propose solar projects of 10MW or more in these areas already would be eligible for priority processing.  This will mean that companies proposing utility-scale solar facilities on public lands in these areas can be assured of a more efficient permitting process as they can tier to the environmental analysis that has already been prepared.

    A programmatic environmental impact statement has been underway since May of 2008 and will be expanded to include an in-depth analysis of the potential impacts of utility-scale solar energy development on public lands in 24 Solar Energy Study Areas.  This expanded analysis will be funded in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

    Secretary Salazar noted this “environmentally sensitive plan will identify appropriate Interior-managed lands that have excellent solar energy potential and limited conflicts with wildlife, other natural resources or land users. The two dozen areas we are evaluating could generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity. With coordinated environmental studies, good land-use planning and zoning and priority processing, we can accelerate responsible solar energy production that will help build a clean energy economy for the 21st century.”

    As part of this initiative, the BLM will withdraw the study areas for two years from new mining claims and other actions initiated by third parties under public land laws, giving the BLM time to complete its environmental review and make a determination on solar energy zones.

    The BLM’s notice of availability invites comments on the maps and its proposals by July 30, 2009.  Details of where to submit comments are provided in the notice, available at http://solareis.anl.gov/documents/docs/SESA_Maps_NOA.pdf.

    The BLM will continue to process 158 active solar applications and continue to accept new applications during preparation of the PEIS, both within and outside the Solar Energy Study Areas.  For more information regarding the BLM and DOE programmatic solar environmental impact statement, see http://solareis.anl.gov/index.cfm.