To provide flexibility, variance areas are potentially available for utility-scale solar energy development in accordance with the variance process.
Variance areas are made up of BLM-administered lands that are outside of solar energy zones (SEZs) and not otherwise excluded by the Solar Energy Program. The BLM will consider right-of-way (ROW) applications for utility-scale solar energy development in variance areas on a case-by-case basis based on environmental considerations; coordination with appropriate Federal, State, and local agencies and tribes; and public outreach. This evaluation is referred to as the variance process.
The Solar PEIS website provides maps showing variance areas in the six-state study area, as of publication of the Solar PEIS ROD. Changes in Land Use Plans over time may result in changes to Exclusion and Variance areas.
The BLM’s Record of Decision (ROD) for the Restoration Design Energy Project (RDEP) also identified 192,100 acres of BLM-administered variance areas in Arizona as Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDAs). Solar and wind renewable energy projects will be prioritized on REDA lands, subject to appropriate environmental review. The REDA lands are near transmission lines or designated corridors, close to population centers or industrial areas, and in areas where impacts on water usage would be moderate. These lands also have few known resource impacts or have been previously disturbed, such as retired agriculture properties.