The variance process required the developer to demonstrate to the BLM that no nearby solar energy zones could meet their needs and that their proposed project is in a low-conflict location. The BLM’s Western Solar Plan focuses development in low-conflict Solar Energy Zones, allowing consideration of projects outside of zones on a case-by-case basis through a rigorous “variance process.”
BLM has made significant progress in establishing a renewable energy program for our public lands, and the Western Solar Plan’s landscape-scale approach and focus on development in low-conflict zones is a key part of the program. The BLM recently approved the first solar projects in a solar energy zone at Nevada’s Dry Lake zone outside of Las Vegas.
Responsible renewable energy development on public lands is an important part of the solution to climate pollution, along with rooftop solar and energy efficiency and conservation. Wherever renewable energy projects are developed on public lands, they should be sited outside of important wildlands and wildlife habitat, and offset or “mitigate” any unavoidable impacts by protecting or restoring nearby lands with similar values.
Overall, the BLM did a good job following the requirements of the variance process for Luning Solar. The project is located on lands with relatively low value for wildlife habitat, with some existing disturbance from off-highway vehicle use, and adjacent to a highway and close to an existing substation and transmission line that would be used to carry the energy produced.
The developer, Invenergy Solar Development LLC, has also committed to funding offsite mitigation projects to restore the types of vegetation that will be lost on the Luning Solar development site. This is in line with the BLM and the Department of the Interior’s ongoing efforts to improve mitigation for energy development on public lands.
Going forward, the BLM can continue to strengthen its renewable energy program by finalizing efforts like its guidelines for wind and solar, which would formalize an approach for incentivizing development in low-conflict, priority areas on public lands.