Photo credit: TonytheMisfit
Thousands of acres of federally administered land in the Southwest will likely receive official designation as solar energy zones, or hotspots for large-scale solar power generation. In a joint effort among federal agencies, new solar maps were released this month detailing several areas of interest in six Western states—California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado.
Solar Energy Study Areas
These hotspots are for now labeled Solar Energy Study Areas; all are located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and will undergo at least a year of study, culminating in a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that will map out environmentally conscious ways to implement utility-scale solar power plants on these federal lands.
There are a total of 24 “hotspots” designated as areas of study. These tracts will undergo extensive study as they are initially considered the best option for solar installations with minimal footprint. Other lands will still be open to consideration as future solar sites, but will not take precedent in the near future.
Of those 24 tracts of land, by far the largest are in southeastern California in the Mojave Desert region, followed by New Mexico. The other four states have comparatively small zones. This may, however, only reflect the proportion of federal lands in these states.
Feds As Mediators
The PEIS studies of solar hotspots are largely in response to environmental opposition to some large scale solar power plants, especially in California where some installations have been mired in controversy for some time. The feds are attempting to find lands suitable for solar development that will not impact endangered species and can be implemented while upsetting the local landscape as little as possible.
Furthermore, the eventual establishment of solar energy zones will help streamline permit approval for solar projects on these lands. In other words, the PEIS studies will do a lot of the environmental research and evaluation ahead of time and set guidelines that will enable solar companies to get land leases and go-ahead approval faster, all with the greater goal of fulfilling President Obama’s hope of doubling renewable energy output within three years.