Bureau of Land Management Solar Energy Permitting and Program Resources
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2012 Western Solar Plan

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 2012 Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) Record of Decision (ROD) — also known as the Western Solar Plan – established a process for permitting utility scale (> 20 MW) solar energy projects on BLM-administered lands in six southwestern states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The Western Solar Plan process facilitated the permitting of solar energy development projects on public lands in a more efficient, standardized, and environmentally responsible manner.

The Western Solar Plan defined and identified the following areas:

  • Solar energy zones (SEZs) are specific locations that are well suited for utility-scale production of solar energy where the BLM prioritizes solar development in the six states. The Western Solar Plan also identified a collaborative process for identifying additional SEZs in the future. The right-of-way (ROW) regulations at 43 CFR 2800 and subparts (as amended in 2017) defined the SEZs as “designated leasing areas (DLAs),” established incentives for developing in SEZs, and determined that solar energy development within DLAs would be facilitated through competitive procedures to issue solar energy ROW leases.
  • The Western Solar Plan also defined variance areas, locations outside of SEZs but not otherwise excluded from development. The BLM considers 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. Variance areas are considered ‘outside of designated leasing areas’ under the ROW regulations at 43 CFR 2800 and subparts (as amended in 2017).
  • The Western Solar Plan defined exclusion areas, BLM-administered lands that are excluded from utility-scale solar energy development, as any areas not identified as SEZ or variance areas.

The Western Solar Plan also established programmatic design features that are required for all utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands in the six-state area to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse impacts on resources of concern, and SEZ-specific design features that are required for utility-scale solar energy development within specific SEZs. Additional information is available about the permitting process for solar energy projects within SEZs and variance areas.