Bureau of Land Management Solar Energy Program Western Solar Plan
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Apply Environmental, Cultural, and Other Screening Criteria

The BLM State and field offices will apply relevant environmental, cultural, and other screening criteria to find potential SEZs with low natural, cultural, and visual resource conflicts. Following the screening steps identified below, a planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 analysis would be conducted.

Program Exclusion Criteria

To identify potential SEZs with low resource conflicts, BLM State and field offices will screen areas for the presence of resources or other values that the BLM has determined in the Record of Decision (ROD) to be unsuitable for utility-scale solar energy development rights-of-way (ROWs) (see Table A-2 of the ROD).

Relevant Land Use Plan Decisions

BLM State and field offices undertaking efforts to identify new or expanded SEZs will consider all relevant decisions in existing land use plans (e.g., ROW avoidance and exclusion areas, timing restrictions). Although it may be necessary to amend existing land use plan decisions as part of identifying new or expanded SEZS, such decisions serve as a valuable screen for potential conflicts.

Coordination and Outreach

In order to understand potential resource conflicts and opportunities and/or barriers for solar energy development, BLM State and field offices will coordinate with appropriate Federal, State, and local agencies, and tribes (including, but not limited to, the agencies described below). The BLM also may decide to reach out to the local public and other stakeholders such as local sportsman groups. Such coordination and outreach would likely result in the development of locally relevant screening criteria to be applied in the identification of potential new or expanded SEZs. During coordination and outreach, the BLM will:

  • Consult with State and local (county and/or municipal) governments to identify opportunities for new or expanded SEZs and to consider consistency with officially adopted local plans and policies (e.g., comprehensive land use plans, open space plans, conservation plans) and permit requirements (e.g., special use permits)
  • Consult with State resource management agencies to discuss potential resource conflicts.
  • Engage in government-to-government consultation with tribes to identify traditional cultural properties and sacred sites with areas related to new or expanded SEZs.
  • Consult with appropriate land management agencies for consideration of areas in close proximity to special designations such as the National Parks, National Refuges, and National Forests.
  • Consult with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for consideration of impacts on military installations and operations.

Such consultations may result in agreements not to locate SEZs near specific units, based on an agency's assessment of potential adverse impacts on those units.

Landscape-Scale Information

The BLM will use landscape-scale information (e.g., BLM's rapid ecological assessment, California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), The Nature Conservancy's eco-regional assessments, and State-level crucial habitat assessment tools) to identify and to exclude from SEZs areas of high ecological value or importance. For example, in areas with pre-existing landscape-scale conservation plans, such as the DRECP in California, future SEZs will not be considered in areas needed to achieve biological goals and objectives established in the plan.

Other types of areas to screen for based on landscape-scale information may include areas with significant populations of sensitive, rare, and special status species or unique plant communities, important biological connectivity areas, designated wildlife habitat management areas, lands with wilderness characteristics, and areas with high concentrations of ethnobotanical resources of importance for Native American use.

Potential landscape-scale information would be evaluated in coordination with relevant Federal, State, and local resource management agencies and tribes.

Degraded, Disturbed, or Previously Disturbed Sites

In identifying potentially suitable lands for SEZs, BLM State and field offices will seek opportunities to locate new or expanded SEZS in degraded, disturbed, or previously disturbed areas. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Lands that have been mechanically altered, such as fallowed agricultural lands;
  • Lands that have been “type-converted” from native vegetation through plowing, bulldozing, or other mechanical impact, often in support of agriculture or other land cover change activities (e.g., mining, clearance for development, or heavy off-road vehicle use);
  • Brownfields and other contaminated or previously contaminated sites, such as those identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) RE-Powering America's Land Initiative or State, local, and/or tribal authorities;
  • Idle or underutilized industrial sites;
  • Lands adjacent to urbanized areas and/or load centers;
  • Areas repeatedly burned and invaded by fire-promoting non-native grasses where the probability of restoration is determined to be limited; and
  • Areas where co-location of solar energy development with other energy development may be feasible (e.g., wind or oil and gas development).

Amendment of existing land use plan decisions may be necessary to allow for new or expanded SEZs on degraded, disturbed, or previously disturbed areas. Sources of information on degraded, disturbed, or previously disturbed areas should include:

  1. Landscape-scale information and landscape-scale ecological assessments (e.g., landscape conservation cooperatives, rapid ecological assessments, and State-level crucial habitat assessment tools) which identify converted or highly degraded lands on BLM-administered and adjacent Federal and non-Federal lands;
  2. Coordination with the EPA and relevant State agencies that catalog degraded, disturbed, or previously disturbed sites; and
  3. Outreach to local communicates and the public regarding possible degraded, disturbed, or previously disturbed sites.

Opportunities To Combine Other Federal and Non-Federal Lands

As part of the SEZ identification process, the BLM will take into account opportunities to partner with adjacent Federal and non-Federal landowners (e.g., private, State, tribal, or DoD-withdrawn lands). For example, small SEZs may be appropriate on BLM-administered lands when they are located adjacent to degraded, disturbed, or previously disturbed private lands. This combination of BLM-administered and non-Federal lands could allow for a combined use area, allowing for the expansion of renewable energy development onto well-suited adjacent lands.

Information from BLM Monitoring Efforts

As part of the SEZ identification process, the BLM will review and consider information gathered through its proposed long-term monitoring and adaptive management program. Information gathered through monitoring studies will help the BLM regularly evaluate resource conditions, detect change, and augment its knowledge of potential resource conflicts associated with solar energy development. This information will be used to inform the identification of new priority areas for utility-scale solar energy development.

In addition, the BLM has expanded its knowledge of areas that are suitable/not suitable for development through the evaluation of individual solar energy ROW applications. Areas eliminated from ROW applications because of resource conflicts (e.g., rare vegetation or desert washes) may provide additional screening criteria for new or expanded SEZs.

Updated: 7/26/2013