Kramer Junction concentrating solar trough project
National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Warren Gretz
Guiding solar development to low-conflict zones is key for protecting wildlands and wildlife habitat while advancing responsible projects. Last week's announcement by the BLM shows the agency’s commitment to implementing its smart western solar plan – and real interest from developers in the zones.
The Department of the Interior has put a priority in advancing smart renewable energy policies and projects on public lands. The BLM’s western solar plan is a major part of Interior’s strategy, and a core component of the plan is guiding projects to low-conflict zones. BLM has designated 19 “Solar Energy Zones” on public lands in the six southwestern states. The zones offer great solar resources and access to transmission lines, while posing limited impacts to wildlands and wildlife habitat.
BLM received so much interest in two of Colorado’s four zones from solar developers that the agency is holding an auction to determine which company will move forward with applications there. One parcel covering about 1,000 acres is being offered in the De Tilla Gulch zone, along with two parcels totaling 2,500 acres in the Los Mogotes East zone. All of Colorado’s zones are in the San Luis Valley in the southern part of the state.
Another key element of BLM’s western solar plan is offsetting or “mitigating” the impacts from development on the landscape and wildlife. The agency has piloted a regional approach to mitigation in the Dry Lake zone in Nevada, and will be developing similar plans for the Colorado zones as well. And, if Congress acts on bipartisan legislation pending in the House and Senate, revenues already collected from solar development on public lands could be reinvested in local communities, improving recreational access, and other important conservation activities.
The strong interest from developers in the zones underscores the value of proactively identifying good places for solar on public lands. Going forward, a continued focus on guiding projects to existing and new zones, as well as offsetting project impacts, will be needed to ensure smart, responsible development on public lands.