Update on the PEIS for Solar Energy Development

Environmental Training Resource
September 19, 2012 — 1,314 views  
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On July 24, 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) released the final version of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Development (Solar PEIS). This historic project provides a plan to begin building utility-scale solar power plants on public land located in the Western United States. The Solar PEIS targets land in six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. 

Development of the Solar PEIS began in 2009. Before that year, solar projects were not allowed on public land. Since then, the DOI has approved 17 solar projects that are set to produce a total of 5,900 megawatts of electricity, which is estimated to be enough to power 1.8 million homes. 

The Solar PEIS divides the public land located in the six Western states into 17 solar energy zones (SEZs). In total, the SEZs cover 285,000 acres. Over 19 million additional acres of public land, most of which are located in Nevada, have been designated as variance areas that can be used for further solar development. The variance land does not allow for accelerated permitting for developers like the SEZs do. However, procedures for creating new SEZs are outlined in the Solar PEIS, and the DOI is expected to create them should demand call for additional solar plants.

Including the use of the variance area, the PEIS estimates that enough solar plants will be developed to produce a total of 23,700 megawatts of electricity that will be used to power 7 million homes. 

The 17 SEZs were chosen because they were identified as being the most suitable for the development of solar energy facilities. Characteristics of the land that were considered include solar resources, potential for energy transmission and conflict with other resources, such as historic, cultural and biological centers. 

The majority of the land comprising the SEZs is located in California although only two SEZs are designated for the state. The smaller of the two is the 5,717-acre Imperial East SEZ, which is located near Calexico. The other California SEZ is the largest of the 17. The Riverside East SEZ covers 147,910 acres, which is a little more than 230 square miles. It is located between Blythe and Desert Center in Riverside County. 

An additional SEZ has already been earmarked in California by the DOI. However, use of the land in the Chocolate Mountains east of the Salton Sea is still in the discussion phase.

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