Proposed plan would add 5 states, millions of acres to solar energy strategy

January 22, 2024

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is taking steps toward advancing infrastructure for commercial solar energy development, adding five states and millions of acres of land to a plan that has been in effect for more than a decade.

The BLM last week released a proposed update to the 2012 Western Solar Plan that would add 5.4 million acres in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming to the list of federal lands that it said was suitable for commercial solar energy production.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah were included in the original plan, bringing the total number of states to 11 as the department looks to satisfy its future predictions for clean energy needs.

Updating the plan was necessary to make permitting faster and easier in priority areas and to improve the process by which right of way is secured for utility-scale projects, the BLM said.

The updated plan is the culmination of an analysis of six alternative proposals and 15 meetings with stakeholders. If formalized, a total of 22 million acres would be open for project applications.

Projects proposed within priority areas are all within 10 miles of existing or planned transmission lines that have a capacity to carry at least 100 kilovolts of electricity, making them eligible for a streamlined permitting process. The sites all have high solar power potential and minimal conflicts with wildlife and plants, the BLM said.

Projects are not guaranteed approval. The plan is intended to provide a framework for future land-use planning, the BLM said.

The updated plan was set for publication in the Federal Register on Friday, kicking off a 90-day public comment period that runs through April 18.

“Our public lands are playing a critical role in the clean energy transition – and the progress the Bureau of Land Management is announcing today on several clean energy projects across the West represents our continued momentum in achieving those goals,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said.

The BLM has targeted December for full approval of the updated Western Solar plan, the bureau said.

The updated plan proposes removing 19 million acres of variance areas in the 2012 plan where the bureau had determined solar projects could be permitted with additional study or mitigation measures, and groups them in the areas open for project applications.

It also necessitates amending resource plans in all included states to identify areas available for commercial-scale solar power project applications, as well as setting aside about 126 million acres that would not be eligible for fast-tracked permitting.

The BLM also said several proposed large-scale solar energy projects in Nevada set for publication Friday in the Federal Register capable of delivering clean energy to 500,000 homes had reached regulatory permitting milestones.

They include:

  • A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Libra Solar Project in Mineral and Lyon counties that would generate and store up to 700 MW of solar energy that would power approximately 212,233 homes.
  • A draft EIS for the Rough Hat County Solar Project, which would add 400 MW of solar power to the grid, which would power 121,276 homes.
  • A notice of intent for the Dodge Flat II Solar Project in Washoe County, which would generate 200 MW of energy, enough to power 60,638 homes.
  • A draft environmental assessment for the Dry Lake East Energy Center Solar Project, which would add a 200 MW solar facility with 200 MW battery storage and a 400 MW battery energy storage facility.

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Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Miles Smith

Miles Smith has more than two decades of communications experience in the public and private sectors, including several years of covering local governments for various daily and weekly print publications. His scope of work includes handling public relations for large private-sector corporations and managing public-facing communications for local governments.

Smith has recently joined the team as a content writer for SPI’s news publications, which include Texas Government Insider, Government Contracting Pipeline and its newest digital product, Government Market News, which launched in September 2023. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s in journalism.

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