The 2012 Western Solar Plan identifies categories of BLM-administered lands in the six-state study area that are excluded from utility-scale solar energy development.
Right-of way (ROW) exclusion areas are defined as areas that are not available for location of ROWs under any conditions (BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, H-1601-1). The identification of exclusion areas allows the BLM to support the highest and best use of public lands by avoiding potential resource conflicts and reserving for other uses public lands that are not well suited for utility-scale solar energy development. Because of the size and scale of utility-scale solar energy development (typically involving a single use of public lands), the BLM has excluded a broader set of categories from utility-scale solar energy development than would be identified in a land use plan for other types of ROWs.
BLM Lands Excluded from Utility-Scale Solar Energy Development
The 32 specific exclusion categories from the 2012 Western Solar Plan (Table A-2) are listed below. All utility-scale solar energy development within the six-state area addressed in the 2012 Western Solar Plan must be in conformance with these exclusions unless specific applicable land use plans have subsequently been amended to change the exclusions (for example, through the DRECP Record of Decision).
As part of the 2012 Solar PEIS, the BLM mapped and estimated the acreage for all exclusion categories in the aggregate based on best available existing information. Maps of these exclusions at the state level are available on the Maps of Areas Identified in the 2012 Western Solar Plan page.
Modifications to Exclusions
The identification of any new or modified exclusion category for utility-scale solar energy development would involve planning-level decisions and require the BLM to amend applicable land use plans. Consistent with existing planning regulations, applicants may request that the BLM amend a land use plan to allow for an otherwise nonconforming proposal (BLM Land Use Planning Handbook H-1601-1, Section VII(B)). For example, an applicant may request a land use plan amendment for an individual utility-scale solar energy project in suitable locations where insolation values are below 6.5 kWh/m2/day or slope values are above 5%. The BLM will consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.
Specific 2012 Solar PEIS Exclusion Categories
The following exclusion categories are from the 2012 Western Solar Plan, Appendix A, Table A-2:
- Lands with slopes greater than 5% determined through geographical information system (GIS) analysis using digital elevation models.a,b
- Lands with solar insolation levels less than 6.5 kWh/m2/day determined through National Renewable Energy Laboratory solar radiation GIS data.a
- All Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) identified in applicable land use plans (including Desert Wildlife Management Areas [DWMAs] in the California Desert District planning area).c
- All designated and proposed critical habitat areas for species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (as amended), or if critical habitat is not yet proposed, then as identified in respective recovery plans or the final listing rule (https://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/recovery-plans.html).c
- All areas for which an applicable land use plan establishes protection for lands with wilderness characteristics.c
- Developed recreational facilities, special-use permit recreation sites (e.g., ski resorts and camps), and all Special Recreation Management Areas (SRMAs) identified in applicable land use plans, except for those in the State of Nevada and a portion of the Yuma East SRMA in Arizona.c,d
- Sage-grouse core areas, nesting habitat, and winter habitat; Mohave ground squirrel habitat; flat-tailed horned lizard habitat; fringe-toed lizard habitat; and all other areas where the BLM has agreements with state agency partners and other entities to manage sensitive species habitat in a manner that would preclude solar energy development.c
- Greater sage-grouse habitat (currently occupied, brooding, and winter habitat) as identified by the BLM in California, Nevada, and Utah, and Gunnison's sage-grouse habitat (currently occupied, brooding, and winter habitat) as identified by the BLM in Utah.c,e
- All areas designated as no surface occupancy (NSO) in applicable land use plans.c
- All right-of-way (ROW) exclusion areas identified in applicable land use plans.c
- All ROW avoidance areas identified in applicable land use plans.c
- In California, lands classified as Class C in the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) planning area.c
- In California and Nevada, lands in the Ivanpah Valley.f
- In Nevada, lands in Coal Valley and Garden Valley.f
- All Desert Tortoise translocation sites identified in applicable land use plans, project-level mitigation plans or Biological Opinions.c
- All Big Game Migratory Corridors identified in applicable land use plans.c
- All Big Game Winter Ranges identified in applicable land use plans.c
- Research Natural Areas identified in applicable land use plans.c
- Lands classified as Visual Resource Management (VRM) Class I or II (and, in Utah, Class IIIg) in applicable land use plans.c
- Secretarially designated National Recreation, Water, or Side and Connecting Trails and National Back Country Byways (BLM State Director approved) identified in applicable BLM and local land use plans (available at https://www.nrtdatabase.org/?p=NRTDatabase), including any associated corridor or lands identified for protection through an applicable land use plan.c
- All units of the BLM National Landscape Conservation System, congressionally designated National Scenic and Historic Trails (National Trails System Act [NTSA], P.L. 90-543, as amended), and trails recommended as suitable for designation through a congressionally authorized National Trail Feasibility Study, or such qualifying trails identified as additional routes in law (e.g., West Fork of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail), including any trail management corridors identified for protection through an applicable land use plan. Trails undergoing a congressionally authorized National Trail Feasibility Study will also be excluded pending the outcome of the study.c,h
- National Historic and Natural Landmarks identified in applicable land use plans, including any associated lands identified for protection through an applicable land use plan.c
- Lands within the boundaries of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and any additional lands outside the designated boundaries identified for protection through an applicable land use plan.c
- Traditional cultural properties and Native American sacred sites as identified through consultation with tribes and recognized by the BLM.c
- Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers designated by Congress, including any associated corridor or lands identified for protection through an applicable river corridor plan.c
- Segments of rivers determined to be eligible or suitable for Wild or Scenic River status identified in applicable land use plans, including any associated corridor or lands identified for protection through an applicable land use plan.c
- Old Growth Forest identified in applicable land use plans.c
- Lands within a solar energy development application area found to be inappropriate for solar energy development through an environmental review process that occurred prior to finalization of the 2010 Draft Solar PEIS.f,i
- Lands previously proposed for inclusion in SEZs that were determined to be inappropriate for development through the NEPA process for the 2012 Solar PEIS (limited to parts of the Brenda SEZ in Arizona; the previously proposed Iron Mountain SEZ area and parts of the Pisgah and Riverside East SEZs in California; parts of the De Tilla Gulch, Fourmile East, and Los Mogotes East SEZs in Colorado; and parts of the Amargosa Valley SEZ in Nevada).f
- In California, all lands within the proposed Mojave Trails National Monumentj and all conservation lands acquired outside of the proposed Monument through donations or use of Land and Water Conservation Funds.c
- In California, BLM-administered lands proposed for transfer to the National Park Service with the concurrence of the BLM.f,k
- Specific areas identified since the publication of the 2011 Supplement to the Draft Solar PEIS by the BLM based on continued consultation with cooperating agencies and tribes to protect sensitive natural, visual, and cultural resources (total of 1,066,497 acres [4,316 km2]; see Figure A-1; note there are some overlapping exclusions). Data and finer scale maps will be made available through the Solar PEIS project Web site (https://solareis.anl.gov). Note that in some cases, the description of these areas will be withheld from the public to ensure protection of the resource.f
- The geographic boundaries will not be updated in the future; they may, however, be refined at the individual project level as necessary based on site-specific information.
- Applications may include some lands with up to 10% slope where higher slopes inclusions meet all of the following: (1) are proximate to variance lands in the application, (2) are not otherwise excluded from development, (3) allow for the avoidance or minimization of resource conflicts, and (4) do not create any significant new or additional conflicts. In such cases, a land use plan amendment would have to be adopted as part of the project-specific analysis to permit the slope exception.
- The exclusion category is defined by the presence of a specific land use designation in an applicable land use plan. The geographic boundaries for such exclusion categories will change over time as land use plans are revised or amended, and new information on resource conditions is developed.
- In Nevada, many designated SRMAs are located on semi-degraded lands that might be appropriate for solar development. Decisions on solar ROW applications within Nevada SRMAs will be made on a case-by-case basis. A portion of the Yuma East SRMA was identified as a variance area rather than as an exclusion area based on its designation as VRM Class III and as a rural developed recreation setting, both of which allow for modifications to the natural environment.
- In April 2010, the USFWS published its listing for the greater sage-grouse as “Warranted but Precluded.” Inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms was identified as a major threat in the USFWS finding on the petition to list the greater sage-grouse. The USFWS has identified the principal regulatory mechanism for the BLM as conservation measures in RMPs. On the basis of the identified threats to the greater sage-grouse and the USFWS's timeline for making a listing decision on this species, the BLM has initiated action to incorporate explicit objectives and adequate conservation measures into RMPs (including PEISs and project EISs) within the next 3 years in order to conserve greater sage-grouse and avoid a potential listing under the ESA. To meet the objectives of BLM's sage-grouse conservation policy, the 2012 Solar PEIS has excluded specifically identified sage-grouse habitat (currently occupied, brooding, and winter habitat) located on BLM public lands in Nevada and Utah. These exclusions will be subject to change based on the outcome of the BLM's sage-grouse planning efforts and resulting plan amendments.
- The geographic boundaries are explicitly defined through the 2012 Western Solar Plan and its associated maps, and these boundaries will not be updated in the future.
- In Utah, VRM Class III lands have also been removed due to the high sensitivity and location proximity to Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks, and to significant Cultural Resource Special Management Areas (in southeast Utah).
- National Scenic Trails are comprised of extended pathways located for recreational opportunities and the conservation and enjoyment of the scenic, historic, natural, and cultural qualities of the areas through which they pass (NTSA Sec. 3(a)(2)). National Historic Trails are comprised of Federal Protection Components and/or high-potential historic sites and high-potential route segments, including original trails or routes of travel, developed trail or access points, artifacts, remnants, traces, and the associated settings and primary uses identified and protected for public use and enjoyment (NTSA Sec. 3(a)(3)) and may include associated auto tour routes (NTSA Sec. 5(b)(A) and 7(c)). National Historic Trails or other types of historic trails may also contain properties listed or eligible for listing on the NRHP or National Historic Landmarks. National Historic Trails are protected and identified as required by law (NTSA Sec.3(a)(3)), through BLM inventory and planning processes.
- For example, lands considered non-developable in the environmental analyses completed for the Genesis Ford Dry Lake Solar Project, Blythe Solar Project, and Desert Sunlight Solar Project, and some lands previously within the Pisgah and Brenda proposed SEZs.
- As described in Senate Bill 138, California Desert Protection Act of 2011, introduced in the 112th Congress.
- Three specific geographic areas described as (1) the narrow strip of BLM-administered lands between Fort Irwin and Death Valley National Park, (2) an area of public lands on the northeastern side of the Mojave National Preserve adjacent to the California and Nevada border, and (3) an area along the northern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park.