Another Boost for Renewables: 17 “Solar Energy Zones” Promise Fast-Track Development

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The U.S. Secretary of the Interior has finalized a new solar energy roadmap that has the potential to mitigate permitting risks that have stymied solar development on federal land. The program creates an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) on 285,000 combined acres of public land that will serve as priority areas for utility-scale solar development. The zones are located in six western states, with more than half of the designated acreage in California’s Riverside County. The Department of the Interior characterized the sites as having excellent solar resources, access to existing or planned transmission, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources.

The SEZ Program includes incentives for solar development within the zones, including streamlined permitting. It is anticipated that most, if not all, right-of-way authorizations will be approved by high-level officials at the Bureau of Land Management, and not be subject to administrative appeal. Financial incentives to develop within the SEZs include phase-in rental fee schedules and fixed rental payments for the life of the right-of-way authorization. Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management plans to actively facilitate transmission planning processes at the state and regional level, and provide incentives to projects that will bring transmission to SEZs.

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