Solar panels in Nevada.
Black Rock Solar.
When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized the Western Solar Plan and created 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) across the southwest, two of the primary goals were reducing project permitting times and decreasing impacts to wildlands and wildlife habitat. Data is starting to come in on these goals, and the SEZs are looking like a success.
The first projects inside a SEZ were approved in June 2015 in the Dry Lake zone outside Las Vegas, NV. The previous average time for a solar project on BLM land was 20.4 months. These projects took an average of 9.7 months to receive their permit—less than half the previous average time. The effort to designate SEZs in low-conflict areas and complete some environmental review before development parcels were auctioned off helped BLM reach this impressive achievement.
Cutting permitting time in half is a significant accomplishment, allowing more clean energy to be brought online in a timely manner and decreased costs for project developers. Projects within energy zones should also naturally see lower costs for conservation mitigation because the areas have been chosen specifically for their low-conflict nature.
The dramatic reduction in permitting time can be attributed to the hard work put in to create the SEZs as part of the Western Solar Plan, a multi-year planning process in which scientists, conservationists, Federal and local land managers, renewable project developers, and many other stakeholders determined an initial set of zones that feature high energy resources with low environmental conflict.
Through efforts like the Western Solar Plan, the Obama Administration has fundamentally transformed energy development on public lands, shifting to a smarter, landscape-level approach that helps ensure we get the clean energy we need while protecting areas too special to develop. Prior to his presidency, not a single large-scale solar energy facility had been approved on public lands in the country. Today 29 have been approved, with more in the works. This has helped move renewable energy to be a more significant contributor to our nation’s energy supply.
Now is the time for the Obama Administration to take advantage of opportunities to cement a renewable energy legacy by finalizing their wind and solar leasing rulemaking. This rulemaking will put a standard leasing practice in place, similar to the process that happened in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, to support low-conflict development while providing certainty to renewable energy companies. Be sure to check back to this blog as we continue to update on the progress of these and other important climate action items.