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Interior Releases Updated Solar Energy Development Roadmap

November 7, 2011

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) made public on October 27 a supplement to the federal plan to facilitate responsible utility-scale solar development on public lands in six western states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The revised plan, the Supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development (Solar PEIS), includes 17 solar energy zones totaling about 285,000 acres potentially available for development within the zones. More than 80,000 comments were received on the draft Solar PEIS, which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed with DOE and published on December 17, 2010. After analyzing those comments, gathering additional data, and consulting with cooperating agencies and resource managers, the BLM modified its preferred alternative.

The BLM refined or removed zones that had development constraints or serious resource conflicts. The modified preferred alternative also establishes a variance process that, going forward, will allow development of well-sited projects outside of solar energy zones on an additional 20 million acres of public land. The supplement reinforces and improves upon DOI's work to establish meaningful solar energy zones with transmission solutions and incentives for solar energy development within those zones. The blueprint's early comprehensive analysis is designed to make for faster, better permitting of large-scale solar projects on public lands.

To ensure that proposed solar energy zones are located in appropriate areas, the supplement sets forth a more complete description of the process for identifying zones, including an analysis of transmission availability and potential resource conflicts. It also describes in detail the incentives for developers to site new projects in solar energy zones, and it identifies ongoing regional planning processes that are being used to identify additional solar energy zones.

The Federal Register Notice of Availability for the supplement begins a 90-day public comment period, after which BLM will prepare a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision. See the DOI press release, the supplementPDF, and the Solar PEIS website.

Source: November 2, 2011 article in EERE News, published by the U.S. Department of Energy