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) released on July 27, 2012, and the Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments/Record of Decision (ROD) for Solar Development in Six Southwestern States signed on October 12, 2012.
Through the Solar PEIS ROD, the BLM 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 website 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 right-of-way (ROW) regulations (43 CFR 2800) subsequently published by the BLM on December 19, 2016 have identified the SEZs as “designated leasing areas (DLAs)” and solar energy development on these lands will be facilitated through the offer of competitive solar energy ROW leases.
The program allows for responsible utility-scale solar energy development in variance areas outside of SEZs in accordance with the established variance process. These variance areas would now be considered lands “outside of designated leasing areas” under the ROW regulations (43 CFR 2800) published by the BLM on December 19, 2016. The program also establishes programmatic design features that are required for all utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse impacts on resources of concern.
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.
The Solar Energy Program decisions will guide the processing of all new utility-scale solar energy ROW 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. The ROD has also been supplemented by ROW regulations (43 CFR 2800) finalized on December 19, 2016 to further facilitate solar energy development on BLM-administered public lands and to establish competitive procedures to offer ROW leases for development inside of “designated leasing areas (DLAs)” (Note: The regulations state that the SEZs are DLAs for solar development).
Solar energy ROW applications the 10.8 million acre Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) area in California are now subject to the decisions adopted in the ROD for the DRECP Environmental Impact Statement, approved in September 2016.