The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have issued a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States. It is anticipated that the BLM, after the close of a 30-day protest period which began July 27th, will adopt the PEIS, which sets forth new land use policies on BLM land to help facilitate development of utility-scale solar energy facilities in 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. These SEZs, a total of about 285,000 acres, are areas where the BLM has conducted a thorough environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and determined the optimum locations for solar energy development with the fewest environmental concerns.
Applicants for right-of-way (ROW) authorizations for utility-scale solar energy facilities will be able to make use of the BLM’s NEPA findings and will only have to focus their review on site-specific and facility-specific issues. In other words, proposed projects in SEZs will be able to “tier” to the BLM’s analysis. “Tiering” allows an applicant to utilize the relevant portions of the PEIS and focus on site-specific issues in developing its NEPA documents. Moreover, the PEIS analyzes the likely environmental effects of utility-scale solar development and identifies SEZ-specific design features that will be required of all solar projects in those zones. This will help solar energy developers avoid some of the risks and costs associated with an environmental review because they will not have to develop NEPA documents from scratch and can focus on designs with a high likelihood of being acceptable to BLM.
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