The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced key milestones in implementing the Western Solar Plan with the release of mitigation strategies that will expedite the safe and responsible development of solar energy zones in Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.
The agency says the strategies apply a landscape-level approach to managing development in designated areas, known as solar energy zones or SEZs, on public lands. They identify natural, cultural and human resources that could be impacted by potential solar development, as well as ways to mitigate any unavoidable impacts off-site.
According to the BLM, the strategies provide certainty to potential project developers by recommending a per-acre fee that would fund off-site mitigation measures and streamline environmental review for individual projects within the zones.
SEZs were established in BLM’s Western Solar Plan for solar energy development, which was finalized in 2012. The plan provided a blueprint for utility-scale solar energy permitting in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah by establishing zones with access to existing or planned transmission, incentives for development within those areas, and a process through which to consider additional zones and solar projects.
This latest announcement includes the release of final strategies for three SEZs in Arizona (Yuma, La Paz and Maricopa counties) and one in Lincoln County, Nev. The BLM says the Nevada SEZ – the 25,069-acre Dry Lake Valley North – is the largest of five SEZs in that state, capable of producing up to 4 GW of renewable energy. The agency has also released the draft mitigation strategy for three SEZs on BLM-managed land in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.
“The BLM is committed to facilitating responsible solar energy development on public lands in the right places and in the right ways through implementation of the Western Solar Plan,” says BLM Director Neil Kornze. “These strategies represent a win-win for the environment and renewable energy development by taking stock of potential impacts up-front and identifying appropriate offsets, saving time and preventing costly do-overs late in the process. Solar energy development is a promising resource for Western states and counties, and the BLM is committed to moving forward with smart development of this resource.”
The BLM says these newly released strategies build upon the success of the agency’s first regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone in Clark County, Nev. That effort led to the first successful solar energy zone auction, which brought in $5.8 million for the U.S. Treasury and helped the agency approve projects in half the normal time.
These new final strategies are effective immediately, and the BLM expects to release the final strategy for Colorado in the spring.