Bureau of Land Management Solar Energy Program Western Solar Plan

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Solar Energy Program

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) created a Solar Energy Program for utility-scale solar energy development on BLM administered lands in six southwestern states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. As applicable to the Solar Energy Program, utility-scale projects are those with capacities of 20 megawatts (MW) or greater that generate electricity that is delivered into the transmission grid.

A number of Executive Orders (E.O.s), Congressional mandates, and Federal agency orders and policies promote expedited and concentrated Federal action to support the development of domestic renewable energy resources. The BLM is taking actions in support of U.S. renewable energy goals and objectives for solar energy development as described in the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (PEIS) and the Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments/Record of Decision (ROD) for Solar Development in Six Southwestern States.

Through the Solar PEIS ROD, the BLM has established a comprehensive Solar Energy Program that allows the permitting of future solar energy development projects on public lands to proceed in a more efficient, standardized, and environmentally responsible manner. This Web site is intended to provide easy access to specific information about implementing the Solar Energy Program to aid regulatory agency staff, solar developers, and other interested stakeholders.

As part of the Solar Energy Program, the BLM has categorized lands that are excluded from utility-scale solar energy development (about 79 million acres [319,702 km2]) and has identified specific locations that are well suited for utility-scale production of solar energy (solar energy zones, or SEZs) where the BLM proposes to prioritize development (about 285,000 acres [1,553 km2]). The program emphasizes and incentivizes development within SEZs and outlines a collaborative process for identifying additional SEZs.

The program allows for responsible utility-scale solar energy development in variance areas outside of SEZs in accordance with the established variance process. The program also establishes programmatic design features that are required for all utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands which will result in the avoidance, minimization, and mitigation of adverse impacts on resources of concern.

What Is the Record of Decision (ROD)?

The ROD records the decisions of the BLM Director and approval of these decisions by the Secretary of the Interior to establish a comprehensive Solar Energy Program to administer the development of utility-scale solar energy resources on BLM-administered public lands in six southwestern states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. This includes land use plan amendments for land use allocations (exclusion areas, variance lands, and SEZs), the policies that support these land use plan decisions, and programmatic design features.

What Projects Does the ROD Apply To?

The Solar Energy Program decisions will guide the processing of all new utility-scale solar energy applications on BLM-administered lands. The BLM defines new applications as any applications filed within proposed SEZs after June 30, 2009, and any applications filed within proposed variance and/or exclusion areas after the October 28, 2011, publication of the Supplement to the Draft Solar PEIS.

What Is Outside the Scope of the ROD?

  • The ROD does not authorize any solar energy development projects or eliminate the need for site-specific environmental reviews for any future utility-scale solar energy development project. The BLM will make separate decisions as to whether or not to authorize individual solar energy projects in conformance with existing land use plans as amended by the ROD. The BLM will complete a site-specific environmental review of all solar energy right-of-way (ROW) applications in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to issuing a ROW authorization. All future projects will tier to the analysis in the Solar PEIS to the extent practicable.
  • The scope of the ROD is limited to utility-scale solar energy development. For the purposes of the Solar PEIS and associated decision making, utility-scale solar energy development is defined as any project capable of generating 20 megawatts (MW) or more. As a result, the Solar Energy Program applies only to projects of this scale; decisions on projects that are less than 20 MW will continue to be made in accordance with existing land use plan requirements, current applicable policy, and individual site-specific NEPA analyses.
  • While the Solar PEIS considers the impacts of constructing, operating, and decommissioning the related infrastructure needed to support utility-scale solar energy development, such as roads, transmission lines, and natural gas or water pipelines, the land use plan decisions (e.g., exclusions, SEZs) are applicable only to utility-scale solar energy generation facilities. Management decisions for supporting infrastructure will continue to be made in accordance with existing land use plan decisions and current applicable policy and procedures.
  • None of the land use plan decisions or policies described in the ROD are applicable to private lands or other lands outside the BLM's jurisdiction.
  • The only land use allocations made through the ROD are to identify exclusion areas, variance lands, and SEZs (see Appendix A). The ROD does not amend any land use plan to open areas for utility-scale solar energy development that existing land use plans have identified as exclusion or avoidance areas.
  • The ROD and the associated land use plan amendments do not provide guidance or direction for pending applications for utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands. The BLM defines “pending” applications as any applications (regardless of place in line) filed within proposed variance and/or exclusion areas before the publication of the Supplement to the Draft Solar PEIS (October 28, 2011), and any applications filed within proposed SEZs before June 30, 2009. Pending applications will not be subject to any decisions adopted by this ROD. The BLM will process pending solar applications consistent with land use plan decisions in place prior to amendment by the ROD and policies and procedures currently in place (e.g., IM 2011-060 and IM 2011-061), or as may be modified in the future. Amendments to pending applications would also not be subject to the decisions adopted by the ROD provided they meet the criteria identified in Appendix B, Section B.3.
  • The decisions in the ROD do not change any regulatory procedures generally applicable to ROWs on BLM-administered lands, including rental fees, cost -recovery fees, and bonding requirements. Any regulatory change would require the BLM to pursue rulemaking.
Updated: 8/21/2013