As part of the Solar Energy Program, the BLM 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) 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 right-of-way (ROW) leases. These regulations now provide for the issuance of solar energy ROW leases in response to a competitive offer of lands by the BLM for solar energy development within DLAs (43 CFR 2809). The BLM may include lands in a competitive offer within a DLA on its own initiative or may solicit nominations and expressions of interest for lands to be offered by publishing a call for nominations. A ROW authorization issued through a competitive process will be issued as a ROW lease.
On September 30, 2014, the BLM issued its Draft Competitive Leasing rule for Wind and Solar Leasing in the Federal Register. Publication kicked off a 60-day comment period that closed on December 1, 2014. The proposed regulations promoted the use of “designated leasing areas” that included the BLM's SEZs. The rule would establish competitive processes, terms and conditions (including rental and bonding requirements) for solar and wind energy development rights-of-way (ROWs) both inside and outside the designated leasing areas, and provide incentives for leases in designated leasing areas.
Two documents that supported information in the draft rule are provided below.
The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for considering the establishment of a competitive leasing process was published on December 29, 2011 (Volume 76, page 81,906 of the Federal Register). The Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking included a description of the proposed competitive process.
Section 501 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 as Amended authorizes the Secretary of the Interior, with respect to public lands, to grant, issue, or renew rights-of-way (ROWs) over, upon, under, or through such lands for systems for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric energy (43 USC 1761(a)(4)). This authority includes the issuance of ROW lease authorizations for solar energy generation systems. The previous ROW regulations provided authority for identifying public lands under competitive bidding procedures, but limited the competitive process to responding to ROW applications. The purpose of a competitive process is to determine which application would be processed. Through the regulations published in December 2016 (43 CFR 2800), the BLM provided broader authority and a new competitive process for making lands available for solar energy development within SEZs.
All solar energy ROW applications received before June 30, 2009, for lands in SEZs (defined as “pending” applications) are processed consistent with existing land use plan decisions in place prior to amendment by the Solar PEIS ROD; these applications are not subject to any decisions adopted by the ROD.
All solar energy ROW applications received after June 30, 2009, for lands in SEZs (defined as “new” applications) are subject to the decisions adopted in the Solar PEIS ROD, and under the ROW regulations published by the BLM on December 19, 2016 (43 CFR 2809), are subject to competitive bid procedures. The BLM may include lands within SEZs (now identified as designated leasing areas) on its own initiative or may solicit nominations for lands to be offered by publishing a call for nominations.
Solar energy ROW applications in 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. These decisions apply to the three SEZs located in Southern California (the Riverside East, Imperial East, and West Chocolate Mountains SEZs).