The Departments of the Interior and Energy today adopted a plan for solar energy development on public lands in the West that will facilitate the siting and construction of multiple solar energy facilities while creating jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting natural habitats and contributing to national security.
"This federal solar plan is an important step forward in how energy can be smartly developed on our public lands,” said Michael Powelson, The Nature Conservancy, North American Director of Energy Programs. “The Nature Conservancy commends the Departments of Interior and Energy and the Bureau of Land Management for their commitment to find workable solutions that support renewable energy goals and protect the needs of people and nature.”
The plan, known as the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), is a roadmap for large-scale energy development on lands administered by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. It sets the stage to develop enough solar energy to power 7 million American homes while also protecting southwestern ecosystems. The plan represents the first time that the Bureau of Land Management has taken a proactive approach in identifying appropriate zones for energy development on public lands. It also provides a guideline for the Bureau of Land Management to systematically invest in the protection of animals, habitats, and natural systems to compensate for the impacts of development, another historic first.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today signed the Record of Decision for the plan, officially adopting it into the Department’s development guidelines. The Nature Conservancy worked closely with the BLM, the Department of Interior, and other stakeholders to ensure that the plan contained steps to prevent solar energy development from damaging sensitive natural areas.
For long term success, some of the most critical aspects of implementing the plan will be for the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management to:
• Honor the spirit, tenor, and intent of the Final PEIS - use of landscape-scale ecological assessments to drive decision-making, a zone approach for guiding development, a high bar for development outside of zones, and a systematic approach to mitigation, including a commitment to an off-site compensatory mitigation program.
• Commit to the “zone approach,” especially in regards to other federal and state renewable energy plans being developed, like the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in California and the Restoration Design Energy Project in Arizona. The roadmap establishes 17 zones that have been identified as providing the best opportunities for solar development without imposing threats to natural areas and species. Incentives are provided for development within zones.
• Fulfill regional mitigation plans and establish a programmatic, systematic, consistent, and transparent approach to mitigation overall. The Nature Conservancy is pleased that the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Interior have initiated the development of a Regional Mitigation Plan for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone (SEZ) in Nevada. We are committed to working with the agencies and other stakeholders to create a successful mitigation plan for this SEZ, as well as an example process for planning effective mitigation.
“The federal solar plan can serve as a model for how the Bureau of Land Management addresses all forms of energy development,” said Laura Crane, The Nature Conservancy, Director of the California Renewable Energy Initiative. “Honoring the zone approach agreed to by industry, utilities, conservation groups, and other stakeholders is critical to the success of the plan.”
"Solar energy development is advancing quickly in the west. By using science and planning in state and federal plans, we can find areas for facilities that don’t impact nature,” said Powelson. “We can develop the clean, renewable energy that is essential to our future while protecting our iconic desert landscapes by directing development to areas that are more degraded.”
More information on The Nature Conservancy’s work on renewable energy in the Mojave.
Photos available upon request.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.