The BLM's Solar Energy Program identifies categories of BLM-administered lands that are excluded from utility-scale solar energy development.
Right-of way (ROW) exclusion areas are defined as areas that are not available for location of ROWs under any conditions (BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, H-1601-1). The identification of exclusion areas allows the BLM to support the highest and best use of public lands by avoiding potential resource conflicts and reserving for other uses public lands that are not well suited for utility-scale solar energy development. Because of the size and scale of utility-scale solar energy development (typically involving a single use of public lands), the BLM has excluded a broader set of categories from utility-scale solar energy development than would be identified in a land use plan for other types of ROWs.
The 32 specific exclusion categories are listed and described in the Solar PEIS Record of Decision (ROD), Table A-2. All future utility-scale solar energy development must be in conformance (43 CFR 1601.0-5(b)) with the exclusions adopted through the Solar PEIS ROD and the associated land use plan amendments.
The geographic boundaries for exclusion categories 13, 14, 28, 29, 31, and 32 are explicitly defined through the Solar PEIS ROD and its associated maps, and these boundaries will not be updated in the future. The geographic boundaries for exclusion category 1 (lands with slope greater than 5%) and exclusion category 2 (lands with solar insolation levels less than 6.5 kWh/m2) will not be updated in the future; they may, however, be refined at the individual project level as necessary based on site-specific information. The remaining exclusion categories are defined by the presence of a specific land use designation in an applicable land use plan (e.g., Area of Critical Environmental Concern [ACEC], exclusion category 3) or the presence of a specific resource or condition (e.g., designated or proposed critical habitat for Endangered Species Act [ESA]-listed species, exclusion category 4). The geographic boundaries for such exclusion categories will change over time as land use plans are revised or amended, and new information on resource conditions is developed.
As part of the Solar PEIS, the BLM mapped and estimated the acreage for all exclusion categories in the aggregate based on best available existing information. Maps of these exclusions at the state level are available on the Details on Exclusions and Maps by State page. Individual exclusion categories may also be viewed using the Solar Mapper tool.
The identification of any new or modified exclusion category for utility-scale solar energy development would involve planning-level decisions and require the BLM to amend applicable land use plans. Consistent with existing planning regulations, applicants may request that the BLM amend a land use plan to allow for an otherwise nonconforming proposal (BLM’s 2005 Land Use Planning Handbook H-1601-1, Section VII(B)). For example, an applicant may request a land use plan amendment for an individual utility-scale solar energy project in suitable locations where insolation values are below 6.5 kWh/m2/day. The BLM will consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.