Solar power on public lands

Actions underway within the Bureau of Land Management could pave the way for more utility-scale solar energy projects on public lands in the West.

On May 29, the Bureau of Land Management initiated a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to look at the potential of utility-scale solar energy projects in Western public lands and how to best carry them out. These sorts of projects would generate electricity to consumers through the power grid.

“Solar energy currently accounts for less than 1 percent of total U.S. electricity supply,” stated a BLM memo in April 2007. “As the cost of producing solar energy declines, there will be a greater interest in locating large solar power systems on public lands.”

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires that, by 2015, the Secretary of the Interior should have approved non-hydropower renewable energy projects on public lands capable of generating at least 10,000 megawatts of electricity. The PEIS will look at the environmental, social and economic impacts of big solar developments—think Nevada Solar One outside Vegas, for example—in six Western states: Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. These six states were chosen because they’re the most prospective solar energy resources over the next 20 years. Of the six, Nevada appears the most promising for solar power, according to data from the National

Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The BLM is accepting written and electronic comments about the PEIS through July 7. They can be sent through or to BLM Solar Energy Development Draft Programmatic EIS Comments, 9700 South Cass Ave., Argonne, IL 60439. View PEIS documents at