|Solar Energy Zones/SPEIS|
Solar Energy Zones in Nevada:
What and where are they? Who made them and why, and what do they have to do with the conservation of Nevada's wildlands?
Follow the links below to find out more about Nevada's five Solar Energy Zones
The Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management has identified five zones in Nevada as prime spots for solar energy development .
Nevada is one of six Southwestern states included in the Interior’s 3,000-page programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS), which identifies 285,000 acres of public lands across 17 zones where large-scale solar projects will receive an accelerated review process.
The Department is hoping developers will build projects in the zones because they will save time and money by utilizing the environmental analysis that’s already been completed. The Interior has also estimated mitigation costs for these areas, removing some of the uncertainty energy companies face when developing a project. Environmentalists and conservationists hope developers will build in the zones because we know they represent the areas where projects will do the least harm to wildlands and habitats and the most good for our climate.So what’s the big deal?
The Obama administration wants to reduce our Nation’s dependency upon electricity from coal-fired power plants. Burning non-renewable coal expels carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which exacerbates climate change. Moreover, the move toward electrical power created by renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and biomass lessens our dependency upon foreign petroleum by increasing the amount of electricity available to power industry, homes and vehicles.
Why were these areas selected for potential energy development?
The Solar Energy Zones – or SEZs – have few biological, cultural or historic conflicts; are located in vicinity to existing electrical transmission lines, or designated corridors, and are in areas where sunshine is highly reliable. The five SEZs in Nevada are mostly within the creosote and yucca desert of southern Nevada.
The areas in Nevada identified in this federal plan are really the best locations for large-scale solar projects, which can consume thousands of acres of desert land. These are areas that are already disturbed, are close to existing transmission lines and should have little impact on sensitive species or wild lands.
What was NWP's role?
Nevada Wilderness Project worked for two years with federal officials to identify the best public lands in Nevada for solar energy development. NWP Renewable We helped ensure that future solar plants don’t threaten sensitive wildlife habitat or infringe on proposed or protected Wilderness, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Wildlands or other special landscapes in Nevada.
There is no question that these massive solar projects have a major impact on public land, but it's important that we balance our need to protect public land with our need for cleaner, renewable energy. Climate change is already having an impact on wildlife and landscapes throughout the West, so it's important -- and better in the long run -- that we do what we can to generate more power from solar sources. Putting those projects on public lands that have already been disturbed and are located near existing roads and transmission lines is a smart move.
How much power are we talking about?
The 17 zones in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah can accommodate enough development to produce an estimated 32,000 megawatts of power. The five areas in Nevada – all located in central or southern Nevada – have the capacity to produce 6,500 megawatts, or enough to power an estimated 2 million homes for a year.
So, is that it as far as public land suitable for renewable energy?
The Interior Department identified an additional 19 million acres of public land in the six states as having potential for more solar projects that would be eligible for fast federal approvals. But 78 million acres of public land are being removed from consideration due to their archaeological or cultural qualities, endangered species, scarce water or long distance from transmission lines.
The PEIS does allow for the creation of additional zones in the event that compelling information justifies it. Solar power developers are not excluded from applying to build projects on public land outside of these SEZs. However, developments within these “variance” areas will have to undergo thorough environmental analysis on an individual basis, an expensive and time-consuming requirement that will be considerably shorter within the designated zones.
The SEZs offer reduced lease payments as incentives to locate within these sites.
Historically, is this a big deal?
Prior to the current Administration, there were zero solar projects permitted on existing public lands in America. The Department of Interior has authorized 17 utility-scale solar energy projects thus far, with a projected production of 5,700 megawatts at build-out. The Final PEIS estimates a total development of 23,700 megawatts from within the 17 SEZs and variance areas. That equates to the energy demands of seven million American households.
Will there be similar planning and policy efforts for other renewable energy sources?
Wind and geothermal energy generation projects undergo individual federal review. There are no plans at this time to establish specific zones like the SEZs to attract wind or geothermal development to key areas defined by the same criteria. Unlike the abundant and ever-present sunshine in southern Nevada, wind and geothermal resources are limited to specific land features.
What others are saying:
Los Angeles Times - Jul 24, 2012
The plan establishes 17 solar energy zones in six Western states, including 154000 acres in California. The zones were chosen because they avoided major environmental, cultural or other conflicts.
5280 The Denver Magazine (blog) - Jul 26, 2012
Southern Colorado could someday be the site for four large-scale solar-energy facilities, according to a plan by the United States Department of Interior that was unveiled this week.
Reuters - Jul 24, 2012
The plan allows for 17 zones covering about 285000 acres of federal land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The administration wants to fast track development of large solar power generation plants.
Natural Resources Defense Council (blog) - Jul 24, 2012
The final solar program identifies 17 solar energy zones covering 285000 square miles in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The area was cut down from an original 24 zones.