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Feds to update solar development rules for western public lands

BLM is considering adding more states, adjusting exclusion criteria and seeking to identify new or expanded areas to prioritize solar deployment.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it will develop an updated plan to guide solar energy development on public lands through an updated Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS).

The BLM is also initiating reviews of three proposed solar projects in Arizona that could add 1 GW of capacity to the grid.

In 2012, the BLM and the Department of Energy issued a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in six southwestern states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The 2012 Solar PEIS identified areas with high solar potential and low resource conflicts in order to guide responsible solar development and provide certainty to developers. 

As part of the update to this decade-old process, the BLM is considering adding more states, adjusting exclusion criteria and seeking to identify new or expanded areas to prioritize solar deployment.

A notice to update the BLM’s 2012 Solar Programmatic EIS is slated to be published in the Federal Register, launching a 60-day public comment period.

BLM also is issuing updated guidance in an effort to improve consistency in processing rights-of-way for utility-scale solar projects under the variance process established by BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan, which is used for solar projects outside of Solar Energy Zones.

In related news, initial reviews also are planned for new solar projects proposed on public lands in Arizona. First, scoping meetings will be announced for environmental analysis of the proposed Jove solar project, which could add up to 600 MW of utility-scale capacity on 3,495 acres of public land in southeastern La Paz County. 

Second, a two-year segregation will begin of more than 4,400 acres of public land associated with two proposed utility-scale solar energy projects. The segregation action is intended to support review of the proposed 250 MW Pinyon Solar project in Maricopa County, and the proposed 300 MW Elisabeth Solar project in Yuma County.

Across the West, the BLM is currently processing 65 utility-scale onshore clean energy projects proposed on public lands. This includes solar, wind and geothermal projects, as well as interconnect gen-tie lines that are vital to clean energy projects proposed on non-federal land. These projects have the combined potential to add over 31,000 MW of capacity to the western electric grid. 

The BLM is also undertaking the preliminary review of more than 100 applications for solar and wind development, as well as nearly 50 applications for wind and solar energy testing.

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