Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar on Friday announced a federal blueprint for large-scale solar power project developments spanning six Western states. The Obama Administration’s Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) refines the approach that’s been taken previously — the Interior Department is now first identifying solar energy development zones in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah with access to existing or planned transmission capacity and where utility-scale solar PV installations would pose minimal risks to wildlife and ecosystems.
Announced at a press conference in Las Vegas, the PEIS for utility-scale solar energy permitting also establishes incentives for project development and a process through which to consider additional zones and solar projects, according to a Department of Interior press release.
New Solar Power Development Roadmap for the US West
Interior’s announcement demonstrates further follow-through on President Obama’s “all-of-the-above energy strategy” and pledge to boost renewable energy and green economic growth in the US.
Interior on Tuesday reached the President’s goal of authorizing 10,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable power on public lands with the approval of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project sites in Wyoming. At a combined rated capacity of up to 3,000 MW, the two southeastern Wyoming wind farms could generate enough clean, green renewable power for nearly 1 million US homes and create an estimated 1,000 green jobs.
Interior has authorized 33 renewable energy projects on public lands since 2009. These include 18 utility-scale solar power facilities, seven wind power farms, and eight geothermal power plants, along with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure, the Department noted. Taken together, these projects will produce enough clean electricity to power more than 3.5 million US homes, support some 13,000 construction and operations jobs, and potentially avoid a massive amount of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions over their useful lives.
“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” Secretary Salazar stated. “This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs.”
New PEIS Paves Way to Potential 23.7 GW of New Solar Power
The new Solar PEIS establishes an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) spanning some 285,000 acres of public lands to “serve as priority areas for commercial-scale solar development. If fully built out, projects in the designated areas could produce as much as 23,700 MW of solar energy, enough to power approximately 7 million American homes,” according to Interior.
The Solar PEIS also comes with some built-in flexibility in that it allows for evaluation on a case-by-case basis of solar power project proposals on carefully selected sites outside the SEZs. Interior in the new Solar PEIS has identified some 19 million acres in such so-called “variance” areas.
Also included in the new Solar PEIS is “a framework for regional mitigation plans, and to protect key natural and cultural resources the program excludes a little under 79 million acres that would be inappropriate for solar development based on currently available information.”
“The Solar PEIS sets forth an enduring, flexible blueprint for developing utility-scale solar projects in the right way, and in the right places, on our public lands,” said David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior. “Never before has the Interior Department worked so closely and collaboratively with the industry, conservationists and sportsmen alike to develop a sound, long-term plan for generating domestic energy from our nation’s sun-drenched public lands.”
For those interested in learning more, Interior has put a fact sheet on the new Solar PEIS online.