NEWS: Interior Department Moves Toward a Smart Solar Energy Program

A photovoltaic solar array.

BREAKING: The Bureau of Land Management will further evaluate the potential impacts of solar energy development on public lands in six western states before finalizing its solar energy program, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today.

In particular, the BLM plans to provide in a supplemental draft programmatic Environmental Impact Statement more information on how solar projects will impact wild lands, wildlife, water and other environmental resources in proposed solar energy zones. In addition, the BLM is expected to make clear in the supplement its preference for locating solar projects in the zones and avoiding environmentally-sensitive landscapes.

“Guiding projects to areas with the least potential for conflict with wildlife, wild lands, and unique natural and cultural resources is the right approach to solar energy development,” said Jim Lyons, senior director for renewable energy with Defenders of Wildlife.

“Guiding projects to areas with the least potential for conflict with wildlife, wild lands, and unique natural and cultural resources is the right approach to solar energy development,” said Jim Lyons, senior director for renewable energy with Defenders of Wildlife. “And it is the most efficient way to increase the certainty that projects will be built. It is also extremely important that we move away from reviewing projects one by one across the landscape. Providing the flexibility to modify existing zones and identify new ones working with the solar industry, conservationists, utilities and investors is essential. The additional analysis proposed by Secretary Salazar will allow the Bureau of Land Management to find low risk places for solar power plants and avoid unnecessary conflicts. This is a ‘smart from the start’ strategy that should speed development of wildlife-friendly and environmentally-sound clean energy projects. We applaud the Secretary’s decision to move in this direction.”

BLM's solar energy program aims to guide development away from pristine desert landscapes.

To meet future energy demand, the supplemental draft EIS will also outline a process for identifying new zones, discuss incentives for developing in zones and describe a pathway to allow developers to apply for exemptions to build in low conflict areas outside of the zones.

Related: Learn more about Defenders’ work on renewable energy.

“We are encouraged that BLM is committed to finalizing the solar energy program in a timely manner so that solar development on public lands can move forward in an environmentally sound way,” said Johanna Wald, director of the Western Renewable Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “By designing a program that favors solar development in energy zones, BLM is demonstrating that it’s committed to getting solar development right from the start. And by incorporating key improvements jointly recommended by major stakeholders –developers, utilities and conservation groups – BLM is contributing to the success of the solar industry and to the nation’s transition from fossil fuel to clean energy sources.”