Why the Solar PEIS Is Needed
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have developed the Solar PEIS to facilitate utility-scale solar energy development in compliance with federal orders and mandates, and to maintain compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which specifies when EISs must be prepared.
Background and Need for Agency Action
The BLM and the DOE identified a need to respond in a more efficient and effective manner to the high interest in utility-scale solar energy development (in particular development to be sited on public lands), and to ensure consistent application of measures to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse impacts of such development. In response to direction from Congress under Section 211 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 , as well as Executive Order 13212, Actions to Expedite Energy-Related Projects, the DOE and the BLM (the Agencies) are evaluating how environmentally responsible utility-scale solar energy projects can be facilitated through developing and implementing agency-specific programs that would establish environmental policies and mitigation strategies for solar energy development. Additionally, in response to Order No. 3285A1 from the Secretary of the Interior, the BLM initiated in-depth study of specific locations best suited for utility-scale solar energy development on public lands.
The BLM has received a large number of utility-scale solar energy project proposals for BLM-administered lands, mainly in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Until release of the Solar PEIS Record of Decision (ROD) in October 2012, it processed solar energy right-of-way applications for lands under a set of Solar Energy Polices. BLM's solar energy policies, published in Instruction Memoranda, are available for downloading on the Documents page. Some of these policies have been replaced by policies provided in the Solar Energy Program established through the ROD.
The DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has supported the evaluation of environmental benefits and concerns for solar facilities through funding of specific studies.
Applicable Federal Orders and Mandates
In Executive Order 13212, Actions to Expedite Energy-Related Projects, the President ordered that executive departments and agencies "…take appropriate actions to expedite projects that will increase the production, transmission, or conservation of energy." In addition, Section 211, of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) provides that the Secretary of the Interior should, within 10 years of enactment of the Act, "…seek to have approved non-hydropower renewable energy projects located on the public lands with a generation capacity of at least 10,000 megawatts of electricity". The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires DOE to facilitate integration of utility-scale solar energy into regional electricity transmission systems, and Executive Order 13514 requires federal agencies to help advance local efforts for renewable energy development. The Agencies have identified utility-scale solar energy development as an important component in meeting these mandates.
Secretarial Order No. 3285A1 (issued in March 2009 by the Secretary of the Interior and amended in February 2010) announced a policy goal of identifying and prioritizing specific locations on public lands that are best suited for large-scale production of solar energy.
Proposed Agency-Specific Programs
Utility-scale solar energy projects (defined for the Solar PEIS as facilities with a generation capacity of 20 MW or greater) generate electricity that is distributed to consumers through the electric power transmission grid. The Agencies determined that specific actions should be taken to further evaluate the impacts of such development. Through the PEIS, the BLM considered the development and implementation of a new Solar Energy Program that would establish environmental policies and design features (e.g., mitigation requirements) related to solar energy development in six southwestern states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah). The DOE considered development and implementation of new guidance relevant to DOE-supported solar projects.
National Environmental Policy Act
Federal laws and regulations require the federal government to evaluate the effects of its actions on the environment and to consider alternative courses of action. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321), as amended, specifies when an environmental impact statement (EIS) must be prepared. NEPA requires that an EIS be prepared for major federal actions with the potential for significant impact on the quality of the human environment.
The Agencies determined that the establishment of specific agency-wide solar energy programs and guidance constituted major Federal actions as defined by the NEPA and, thus, they decided to jointly prepare a PEIS.
Why a Programmatic EIS Is Appropriate
A Programmatic EIS evaluates the environmental impacts of broad agency actions, such as the development of programs or the setting of national policies. For the DOE, the new guidance in the PEIS related to environmental impacts will be considered in making decisions on whether to fund projects or guarantee loans for the deployment of solar energy projects on BLM-administered lands or other Federal, State, tribal, or private lands. For the BLM, the new Solar Energy Program will affect how all utility-scale solar energy development projects on public lands are administered and involves the amendment of multiple land use plans. Through the Solar Energy Program, the BLM has established its own environmental policies and design features applicable to rights-of-way for utility-scale solar energy development projects on public lands administered by the BLM.
Energy and the Environment
Environmental protection is an integral part of energy production.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 addresses the Nation's need for ensuring greater security and affordability in our energy supply while also protecting the environment. Any steps the Agencies take to implement the Energy Policy Act will continue to include thorough environmental review and analysis.
Nothing in the Energy Policy Act changes the requirements of environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act.
The BLM is committed to a transparent, science-based approach to environmentally responsible management of the public lands.