After receiving over 80,000 comments, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has issued a revised roadmap for large utility-scale solar plants on federal lands in six western states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
The roadmap is meant to develop solar on public lands, "smart from the start" – identifying land that’s best suited for large scale development in terms of easy access to transmission lines and siting that avoids conflicts with important wildlife, cultural and historic resources.
It gives developers incentives to site new projects in solar energy zones – including greater certainty and shorter permitting times.
The number of Solar Energy Zones has been reduced from 24 to 17, and the total acreage potentially available for development has dropped from about 677,000 acres to about 285,000 acres.
DOI estimates about 214,000 acres of public land will be needed over the next 20 years to meet expected solar demand.
The roadmap also establishes a variance process that will allow development of well-sited projects outside of solar energy zones on an additional 20 million acres of public land.
And it will incorporate other, state-based planning efforts to establish additional solar energy zones, such as the Arizona Restoration Energy Design Program, the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation, and the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Industry, the public and interested stakeholders are invited to propose additional zones for consideration.
In the past two years, DOI has approved 22 major renewable energy projects, including 13 commercial-scale solar facilities that combined will produce nearly 5,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 1.5 million American homes.
Some of those projects have become the subject of lawsuits, especially those on sensitive wildlands.
There will be four public meetings:
- Las Vegas, Nevada (11/30)
- Phoenix, Arizona (12/1)
- El Centro, California (12/7)
- Palm Desert, California (12/8)
The final roadmap will be prepared after a 90-day public comment period. Here’s where to comment.