Suitable Solar Energy Zones Identified in Western States

Dec 13, 2010

Report Details Areas Conservationists Hope Department of Interior Will Prioritize for Guided Utility-Scale Development

Denver, CO – In anticipation of an announcement by the Department of Interior later this week, a report analyzing solar energy zones in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah was released today. In the Zone: Powering the Future and Protecting Wildlands with Guided Solar Development, sets the stage for the draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that will be released by DOI on Friday.

“We want projects guided to the best places, not spread scattershot across the landscape,” said Alex Daue, renewable energy coordinator at The Wilderness Society. “Designating appropriate zones and requiring that projects go there is a common-sense way to speed responsible development. Additional zones may be necessary in the future, but what we don’t need is a repeat of the oil and gas mess that has plagued our public lands.”

In the Zone profiles five proposed Solar Energy Zones (SEZs)—one each in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—from among 24 Solar Energy Study Areas identified by the BLM in 2009. These zones have great solar resources and avoid places like National Monuments, critical wildlife habitat, designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, areas with a high density of cultural sites, and other sensitive lands.
The proposed zones profiled in In the Zone are:
• Brenda proposed SEZ, Arizona
• Antonito Southeast proposed SEZ, Colorado
• Millers proposed SEZ, Nevada
• Afton proposed SEZ, New Mexico
• Milford Flats South proposed SEZ, Utah

In The Zone does not evaluate the four proposed zones in California. The BLM has indicated it is significantly revising its proposed zones for California and is considering an additional area (West Chocolate Mountains) for renewable energy development separately from the Solar PEIS. Given the dynamic situation in California, we have deferred our evaluation of proposed zones there until release of the Draft PEIS later this week.

The Wilderness Society has been actively engaged in the development of the PEIS, supporting the idea of guided development and making recommendations to refine the proposed zones. Our evaluation, including review by our wildlife biologist, highlights information on solar resources, access to existing roads and transmission lines to allow more economical construction of solar projects, limited environmental conflicts, and potential benefits from building projects in the proposed SEZs.

“There are a total of 24 proposed zones, and the five profiled in our evaluation give a good sense of the kinds of places identified by the BLM that would be good areas for development,” said Daue. “We know that solar projects have impacts, which is why it is so critical that they be guided to the right places and stakeholders have real opportunities to engage in the process.”

The BLM is tasked with overseeing 265 million acres of public lands across the west, including lands with some of the best solar resources in the world. The BLM is currently building its program for solar development and the PEIS will help guide the agency’s planning and policies.

“America is faced with tough choices about where and how we get our energy, but renewables offer great benefits to our economy and clean energy future, and inaction in the face of climate change would be even more destructive,” said Daue. “We’ll be working with the Administration to ensure that when renewables are built, they are done smart from the start. For that to happen, a common sense siting program that guides projects to appropriate locations must be put into place, and we think our analysis can help in that effort.”

Conservationists, renewable energy advocates, and elected officials agree about the benefits of smart solar development in zones. Here is what some have had to say:

Amanda Ormond, former Arizona State Energy Director and now a proponent for increased development of renewable energy in the state said, “With smart solar development in places like the proposed Brenda Solar Energy Zone in Arizona and other appropriate zones, we can speed construction of good projects that will create jobs, put money in our economy, and build a cleaner energy future.”

Steve Fischmann, State Senator representing the region around Las Cruces, New Mexico said, “To me, the proposed Afton Solar Energy Zone means green jobs and economic development for New Mexico. Add to that the peace of mind of knowing projects will not conflict with local fishing holes and hunting spots, and we’ve got a win-win for the people of Doña Ana County and our state.”

To view the full report, visit: