BLM Plans Solar Development Restriction

By Published On: October 15, 2010

The Bureau of Land Management staff is ready to recommend that more than half the land in four federally-managed California solar energy study zones be placed off limits to development. The finding is due to ecological resource impacts, a bureau manager revealed October 13. The federal agency also is aiming to craft standardized environmental analysis to streamline future solar project siting. The proposal is to prevent solar development on 187,749 acres, or 55 percent of the land in the zones. They cover a total of 339,286 acres in the San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial County deserts. The Bureau is likely to formally propose the restriction in an upcoming draft “programmatic environmental impact statement,” according to Linda Resseguie, BLM environmental study manager. The Bureau would nix development on 103,113 acres in the 203,092-acre Riverside East zone, which lies east of Joshua Tree National Monument and runs east toward the Colorado River. The federal agency would rule out solar projects on 73,984 acres of the 106,522-acre Iron Mountain zone, and 10,652 acres of the 23,950 acre Pisgah solar study zone--both of which are in San Bernardino County in the Mojave Desert. BLM is undecided about restricting acreage in the smaller 5,722-acre Imperial East study area, which lies along the U.S.-Mexico border in the low Sonora Desert of eastern Imperial County. The Bureau hopes to publish the draft analysis--covering six southwestern states, including California--for public review and comment on December 17. As part of the Department of Interior, the Bureau is jointly preparing the environmental study with the U.S. Department of Energy. The aim, said Resseguie, is to analyze major solar energy technologies expected to be deployed in the desert over the next 20 years and identify their likely environmental impacts, she explained. Project developers should enjoy streamlined consideration and face well-known common requirements after the study is finished. The agencies intend to identify standard conditions both for solar plants and associated transmission lines, the BLM manager said. The federal government plans to use the study to modify its land use plans in the deserts of California and other states, said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field coordinator Ken Corey. The environmental review is among three Department of Interior efforts to improve ecological protection on federal lands, which are of increasing interest to renewable energy development, according to Corey. The other two efforts are the BLM’s rapid eco-regional assessment program, which is aimed at characterizing the existing state of federally-managed land and likely ecological trends based on such phenomena as climate change. Studies are underway now in both the Mojave and Sonora Deserts, according to BLM scientist Craig Goodman. The other effort is known as the Landscape Conservation Cooperative, a multiagency program to better understand how climate change is expected to affect land, said Russell Scofield, Department of Interior desert managers group coordinator. It should lead to improved land manage practices, he said.

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