US opens 22 million acres for solar development in the West

US opens 22 million acres for solar development in the West
(The Sun Streams 2 solar project in Arizona. Credit: Longroad Energy)

The Department of the Interior announced an updated roadmap for solar energy development across the West, meant to expand solar energy production in more Western states and make renewable energy siting and permitting on America’s public lands more efficient.

The Bureau of Land Management also announced the next steps on several renewable projects in Arizona, California, and Nevada, representing more than 1,700 MW of potential solar generation and 1,300 megawatts of potential battery storage capacity.

The Department published a draft analysis of the Utility-Scale Solar Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (known as the updated Western Solar Plan), which would streamline the BLM’s framework for siting solar energy projects in order to support current and future national clean energy goals, long-term energy security, climate resilience, and improved conservation outcomes.

The proposal is an update of BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan, which identified areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah with high solar potential and low resource conflicts. Following months of stakeholder engagements – including 15 public scoping meetings – the updated roadmap refines the analysis in the original six states and expands it to include Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, the BLM said.

“The Bureau of Land Management revised a decade-old policy and opened 22 million acres of federal land for responsible solar development,” said Ben Norris, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “The proposal also identifies 200,000 acres of land near transmission infrastructure, helping to correct an important oversight and streamline solar development. Under the current policy, there are at least 80 million acres of federal land open to oil and gas development, which is 100 times the amount of public land available for solar. The BLM’s proposal is a big step in the right direction and recognizes the key role solar plays in our energy economy.”

In considering updates to the Western Solar Plan, the BLM worked with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to examine forecasts for national clean energy needs and said it determined that approximately 700,000 acres of public lands would be needed to meet those goals. The BLM’s preferred alternative in the updated Western Solar Plan would provide approximately 22 million acres of land open for solar application.

BLM utilized $4.3 million from the Inflation Reduction Act to invest in these updates to the Western Solar Plan.

GO DEEPER: Jose Zayas, EVP of Policy and Programs, American Council on Renewable Energy joined the Factor This! podcast to break down the key components of the historic Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion dedicated to clean energy and climate change.

The analysis evaluates six alternatives, each proposing to make different amounts of public land available to solar development applications under different criteria such as proximity to transmission infrastructure, designated critical habitat, or other ecological and cultural resources. Public input will inform a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision.

In Nevada, the BLM is advancing four proposed solar projects:

  • The BLM released a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Libra Solar Project in Mineral and Lyon counties, which, if approved, will generate and store up to 700 MW of solar energy.
  • The BLM released a draft environmental impact statement for the Rough Hat Clark County Solar Project, which, if approved, will add 400 MW of clean solar power to the grid. The proposed project would also include a 700-MW battery energy storage system.  
  • The BLM announced a Notice of Intent for the Dodge Flat II Solar project in Nevada, which, if approved, will generate up to 200 MW of photovoltaic solar energy on approximately 700 acres of public lands in Washoe County.  
  • The BLM released the draft environmental assessment for the Dry Lake East Energy Center Solar Project, which would build a 200 MW photovoltaic solar facility with 200 MW of battery energy storage and an additional 400 MW battery energy storage facility. 

In California, the BLM will release in the coming days a Notice to Proceed for the Camino Solar Project in Kern County, allowing construction to begin on a 44-MW solar facility on 233 acres of public land.

In Arizona, the BLM announced that construction of the White Wing Ranch Solar Project has been completed. White Wing Ranch is a 179-MW solar photovoltaic project located on private lands in Yuma County with a generation interconnection (gen-tie) line across approximately 3.5 miles of BLM administered land.

The BLM also announced that construction on the Harquahala Valley (HV) Sunrise gen-tie line in Arizona will begin in February. It will connect the HV Sun solar project, which is a 150-MW solar photovoltaic project located on 1,000 acres of private lands in Maricopa County, with a gen-tie transmission line across approximately 1.1 miles of BLM-administered land.

The BLM is currently processing 67 utility-scale onshore clean energy projects proposed on public lands in the western United States. This includes solar, wind, and geothermal projects, as well as gen-tie lines that are vital to clean energy projects proposed on non-federal land. These projects have the combined potential to add more than 37 GW of renewable energy to the Western electric grid. The BLM is also undertaking the preliminary review of over 195 applications for solar and wind development, as well as 97 applications for solar and wind energy site area testing.