Desert Solar Energy Zones to Minimize Environmental & Cultural Impact of Solar Farms



In order to fast track utility scale solar power generation the US government is creating Solar Energy Zones (SEZ) where environmental and cultural impact of development can be minimized. These areas are also locations where electrical transmission and infrastructure development won’t be cost prohibitive to solar farms. SEZs are part of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) being drafted by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Department of Energy (DOE), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Department of the Interior (DOI).

Currently 17 areas have been identified as potential SEZs which are defined as an area with few impediments to utility scale production of solar energy. Currently land excluded would meet the following criteria:

  • BLM-administered lands currently off-limits to development, including lands prohibited by law, regulation, Presidential proclamation or Executive Order
  • Lands having slopes greater than 5%
  • Lands with solar insolation levels less than 6.5 kWh/m2/day
  • Areas of Critical Environmental Concern
  • Critical habitat for USFWS designated threatened and endangered species
  • Right-of-Way Exclusion and Avoidance Areas
  • No Surface Occupancy Areas
  • Special Recreation Management Areas (note these were not excluded in the State of Nevada or in a portion of the Yuma East SRMA in Arizona)

Some of the areas which have been identified as having critical environmental concern or critical habitat are greater sage-grouse habitat in California, Nevada, and Utah; Gunnison’s sage-grouse habitat in Utah; and Desert Wildlife Management Areas, Flat Tailed Horned Lizard habitat, and Mojave Ground Squirrel habitat in California.

Located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah the zones span 285,000 acres of land. Both industry and environmental groups have been active in crafting the plan and both sides await finalization. Members of the solar energy industry are concerned that not enough attention is being given to access to transmission and siting flexibility while environmentalists worry that too much land is being opened for development.

More information can be obtained by visiting the Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS Information Center.

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