Interior Department Approves First Solar Energy Zone Projects

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved the first three solar energy zone (SEZ) projects as part of its Western Solar Plan.

When built, the three solar energy projects, located on public lands in Clark County, Nev., will have a combined capacity of up to 440 MW. Invenergy's Harry Allen Solar Energy Center, First Solar's Playa Solar Project and NV Energy's Dry Lake Solar Energy Center were submitted for approval by the three successful bidders to a competitive auction BLM held on June 30, 2014, netting $5.8 million for solar leasing on parcels of public lands in the Dry Lake SEZ. The auction was part of the competitive leasing process required for SEZs under the terms of the Western Solar Plan.

The BLM says its Western Solar Plan allows for a more efficient and predictable permitting process by focusing development in SEZs with the highest resource potential and lowest conflicts. The expedited reviews of these three projects were completed in less than 10 months, or less than half the amount of time it took under the previous project-by-project system. These reviews also include consideration of the first regional mitigation strategy for SEZ projects.

Critics have pointed out that the comparatively rapid Dry Lake SEZ approval process had been preceded by more than four years of National Environmental Policy Act review, followed by another 18 months of regional planning. Furthermore, the proposed rules now under consideration by the BLM could possibly add complexity to the approval process.

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