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DOE to Identify Western Transmission Needs for Renewable Energy

June 11, 2008

DOE announced last week that it will work with the Western Governors' Association (WGA) to identify areas in the West with substantial renewable energy resources and to expedite the development and delivery of that energy to meet regional energy needs. Subject to congressional appropriations, DOE plans to contribute up to $2.3 million over the next 3 years to the Western Renewable Energy Zones (WREZ) project, which was launched by WGA and DOE. Under a cooperative agreement with WGA, DOE will help to identify the WREZs, develop regional transmission plans to enhance access to the WREZs, create a transparent process to bring together utilities and the companies developing those renewable energy resources, and encourage interstate cooperation to address permitting and cost issues with transmission lines that cross state lines. Participating in the project are 11 western states, two Canadian provinces, and areas in Mexico that are part of the Western Interconnection, the massive electrical grid that supplies electricity to most of the West. See the DOE press release and the WGA's WREZ Web site.

DOE is also working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to assess the impacts associated with solar energy development on BLM-managed public lands in six western states. The joint Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) will assess the environmental, social, and economic impacts from solar energy projects located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The joint PEIS will also evaluate a number of alternative management strategies to determine which presents the best management approach for the agencies to adopt in terms of mitigating potential impacts and facilitating solar energy development while carrying out their respective missions. The measures adopted as a result of this PEIS will provide consistency and certainty for solar energy development and will help expedite environmental analysis for site-specific projects in the future.

During its work on the PEIS, the BLM will focus attention on the 125 applications already received for rights-of-way for solar energy development, while deferring new applications until after completion of the PEIS. The 125 existing applications involve almost a million acres of land and have the potential to generate 70,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 20 million average U.S. homes. The PEIS will establish a process for accepting future applications, possibly through a competitive process, which would be likely to attract companies with the experience and resources necessary to quickly deploy solar energy projects. The BLM is accepting comments on the scope of the PEIS through July 15 and will also hold public scoping meetings in the six states from mid-June through early July. See the BLM press release and the Solar Energy Development PEIS Web site.