U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has released a finalized Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development, which is intended to spur development of solar energy on public lands in six western states.
The PEIS provides a blueprint for utility-scale solar energy permitting in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah by establishing solar energy zones with access to existing or planned transmission, incentives for development within those zones and a process through which to consider additional zones and solar projects.
With the PEIS, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has established an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs), totaling about 285,000 acres of public lands, that will serve as priority areas for solar development, with the potential for additional zones through ongoing and future regional planning processes. If fully built out, projects in the designated areas could produce as much as 23,700 MW of solar energy, according to the DOI.
The program also keeps the door open, on a case-by-case basis, for the possibility of carefully sited solar projects outside SEZs on about 19 million acres in ‘variance’ areas. The program also includes a framework for regional mitigation plans, and to protect key natural and cultural resources, the program excludes a little under 79 million acres that would be inappropriate for solar development based on currently available information.
The Solar Energy Industries Association and Large-Scale Solar Association (LSA) praised the DOI for completing the PEIS and encouraged the DOI and other relevant agencies to continue to advance solar projects in the permitting process.
‘Balancing the growing demand for domestically-produced solar energy with conservation objectives is not an easy task,’ said Shannon Eddy, executive director of LSA, in a statement. ‘We are appreciative of the departments' efforts to gather input from all stakeholders. We look forward to working with them to refine the process for permitting solar power plants and transmission in the West, with the hope that new solar projects will move forward in the near future.’
A map identifying the SEZs and other lands available for solar energy development is available here.