Incentives for Projects in Solar Energy Zones (SEZs)
The BLM will provide incentives to help steer future utility-scale solar energy development to the SEZs.
The BLM intends to implement the following policies and procedures for projects in SEZs, and complete the rulemaking items and other initiatives described below, in an effort to encourage future utility-scale solar energy development in the SEZs.
Facilitate Faster and Easier Permitting in SEZs
- Consistent with applicable law, the BLM will endeavor to adhere internally to strict schedules for the completion of environmental reviews for projects in SEZs.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) will undertake interagency coordination to expedite service and provide priority processing to projects in SEZs, provide a single point of contact for all DOI agencies responsible for coordinating environmental reviews and consultations, ensure timely performance of agencies, and facilitate stakeholder reviews.
- The BLM will maintain its Renewable Energy Coordination Offices in Washington, D.C., California, Nevada, and Arizona, and will maintain Renewable Energy Coordination Teams in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah as long as needed to assist with efficient authorization of projects in SEZs.
- The BLM may, through its rulemaking effort, establish a competitive process that results in the immediate issuance of a right-of-way (ROW) lease authorization to the successful bidder.
Improve and Facilitate Mitigation
- The BLM will develop regional mitigation strategies for SEZs. Regional mitigation strategies will be composed of goals and objectives applicable to individual SEZs. As envisioned, regional mitigation strategies will simplify and improve the mitigation process for future projects in SEZs. Regional mitigation strategies will address mitigation for a variety of resources such as biological resources, ecological resources, cultural resources, visual resources, and socioeconomic factors, as appropriate. Regional mitigation strategies can increase permit efficiencies and financial predictability for developers. They are also expected to enhance the ability of State and Federal agencies to invest in larger scale conservation efforts that benefit sensitive resources through higher quality habitat, improved connectivity among habitat areas, and long-term conservation of landscapes.
- Once regional mitigation strategies are developed, the BLM expects that developers will be able to mitigate biological impacts for projects in SEZs through funding conservation priorities that are identified in the strategy.
Facilitate the Permitting of Needed Transmission to SEZs
- The BLM will continue to evaluate transmission needs for the currently proposed SEZs, including consideration of available capacity on existing lines and the need for new or modified corridors; efforts will also be made to proactively plan for any new or expanded corridors that may be needed to serve currently proposed SEZs.
- As part of the identification process for new or expanded SEZs, the BLM will simultaneously evaluate their transmission needs, including the need to designate new corridors or modify existing corridors (e.g., modify widths or locations). Corridor designations or modifications may be achieved through a joint land use planning and NEPA process to the extent practicable.
- The BLM will offer incentives to projects that propose to bring transmission to SEZs (e.g., facilitated permitting of needed gen-ties, transmission lines, and upgrades by Renewable Energy Coordination Office staff, and identification of priority transmission projects that will receive facilitated permitting).
- The BLM will commit staff from the BLM’s Renewable Energy Coordination Offices and Teams to engage in ongoing and comprehensive regional transmission planning efforts, as well as subregional transmission planning affecting SEZs, to ensure the recognition of SEZs as a priority in transmission development. For example, the BLM will identify a BLM liaison to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) and the appropriate subregional planning groups, as well as the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).
- The BLM will seek to establish cooperative agreements, Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), and/or Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) with Federal, State, local, and regional agencies, and tribes, as appropriate, to expedite permitting of needed transmission to support SEZ development.
- As part of the ongoing evaluation of the currently proposed SEZs, as well as the identification process for new or expanded SEZs, the BLM will consult with State and regional transmission planning and coordination authorities, State public utility commissions, State energy offices, and transmission system operators to evaluate available capacity on existing and proposed lines and to discuss other potential transmission-related barriers. In addition, the BLM will use its participation in WECC and subregional planning efforts to help inform the evaluation of currently proposed SEZs and the identification of new or expanded SEZs.
- As part of the Solar PEIS, the BLM requested that the SEZs be reviewed as a case study by the Transmission Expansion Planning Policy Committee (TEPPC) of WECC as part of the 2012 Study Program. This request was prioritized as high by the study program, meaning that it will be studied in the first round of TEPPC cases. For all new or expanded SEZs, the BLM will submit study requests for timely TEPCC analysis as appropriate.
- In preparing parcels in SEZs for competitive offer, the BLM will seek to make the most efficient use of existing corridors, consider opportunities for co-location, and avoid geographically stranding future projects from key transmission interconnection points.
Encourage Solar Energy Development on Suitable Lands Adjacent to SEZs
- For projects located jointly on SEZ lands and suitable adjacent public, private, State, tribal, or U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)-withdrawn lands (e.g., lands with low resource conflict or degraded, disturbed, previously disturbed, or contaminated areas), DOI’s permitting incentives as described for SEZs would apply to the entire project. However, additional effort may be required to collect necessary data and conduct appropriate environmental analysis for adjoining lands as compared to SEZ lands.
Provide Economic Incentives for Development in SEZs
- The BLM anticipates lower cost recovery for projects in SEZs because of its extensive upfront data collection and environmental review through the Solar PEIS.
- The BLM may, through its rulemaking effort, adopt a longer phase-in period for rental payments for projects in SEZs (e.g., 10 years), which could effectively reduce the overall cost to operators.
- The BLM may, through its rulemaking effort, establish a fixed megawatt (MW) capacity fee rental payment for the life of the authorization for projects in SEZs, which could effectively reduce the overall cost to operators.
- The BLM may, through its rulemaking effort, establish a limited base acreage rental payment for projects in SEZs, which could effectively reduce the overall cost to operators.
- The BLM may, through its rulemaking effort, restructure bonding requirements for projects in SEZs (e.g., a fixed or standard bond per acre), which could result in reduced costs to operators.
- The BLM may, through its rulemaking effort, establish a 30-year fixed term lease with a fixed rental fee for projects in SEZs, which could reduce uncertainty for operators.