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January 21, 2013

DOI Designates 'Disturbed' Public Land in Arizona as Renewable Energy Zone



On January 18, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar designated 192,100 acres of public land across Arizona—including the 2,550-acre Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone in Yuma County —as potentially suitable for utility-scale solar and wind energy development.  This will be the third solar zone on public lands in Arizona and the eighteenth nationwide.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates that the Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone (see map) could generate more than 20 megawatts (MW) of capacity through utility-scale solar projects. The BLM administers about 12.2 million surface acres of public lands in Arizona.

The publication of the Record of Decision (ROD) for this initiative, known as the Restoration Design Energy Project, caps a three-year, statewide environmental analysis of disturbed land— primarily, property previously used as farmland—and other areas with few known resource conflicts that could accommodate commercial renewable energy projects. Sites containing sensitive resources requiring protection, such as endangered or threatened wildlife and sites of cultural and historic importance, were eliminated from consideration. Additionally, the areas selected had to have reasonable access to transmission lines and load centers, and had to be situated near areas with high electricity demand.

The ROD also sets standards for projects to avoid impacts to sensitive watersheds, ground water supplies and water quality; and establishes a baseline set of environmental protection measures for proposed renewable energy projects. It does not directly authorize any solar or wind energy projects; any proposal will need to undergo a site-specific environmental review.The Solar Energy Zones are part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to facilitate solar energy development by identifying areas in six states in the West— Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah—with high potential.

“This project is a key milestone in our work to spur smart development of solar and wind energy on public lands across the West,” Secretary Salazar said. “Arizona has huge potential when it comes to building a clean energy economy, and this landscape-level plan lays a solid foundation for making sure that it happens in the right way and in the right places. As we advance the President’s energy strategy, we continue to work closely with states, local communities, tribes, industry, conservation and other groups to reduce potential resource conflicts and expedite appropriate projects that will generate jobs and investment in rural communities.”

Since 2009, the Obama Administration has approved 34 renewable energy proposals for public lands, including solar, wind and geothermal projects. Together, they could generate 10,400 MW of electricity, or enough energy to power more than 3 million homes."This initiative exemplifies our ‘Smart-from-the-Start’ review process, which puts appropriate pieces in place for responsibly developing renewable energy projects on public lands,” said Mike Pool, acting Bureau of Land Management Director. “The Arizona project can really serve as a model for future statewide analyses for responsible energy development in the West.”To implement the ROD, eight BLM resource management plans will be amended to identify Renewable Energy Development Areas and provide guidance on how public lands are to be used. These identified areas are within five miles of a transmission line or a designated transmission corridor, and are close to cities, towns, or industrial centers.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman


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