By Laura A. Godfrey, Janice M. Schneider and Anne B. Beaumont

Latham & Watkins has issued a Client Alert regarding the Record of Decision approving the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States.” With the signing of the Record of Decision on October 12, 2012, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopted a comprehensive Solar Energy Program to administer the development of utility-scale solar energy resources on BLM-administered lands in six southwestern states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Utility-scale solar energy development is defined as facilities with generating capacities typically 20 megawatts or greater.  The program’s purpose is to identify locations on BLM lands that are most suitable for utility-scale solar energy development. These areas are characterized by excellent solar resources, access to existing or planned transmission, and relatively low impact to biological, cultural, and historic resources. The program also seeks to allow the permitting of future projects on public lands to proceed in a more efficient, standardized, and environmentally responsible manner.

The Solar Energy Program attempts to concentrate solar development into an initial set of seventeen Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) located on 285,000 acres of public lands across six southwestern states. The SEZs will serve as priority areas for utility-scale solar development. The program provides incentives for solar development within these zones, including faster and easier permitting and improved mitigation strategies, as well as economic incentives.  In addition to the established SEZs, the program outlines a process for the proposal of new and expanded SEZs by industry, the public, and other interested stakeholders and also creates a variance process allowing for development of well-sited projects on approximately 19 million acres outside of the zones. At the same time, it excludes some 78.6 million acres from solar energy development.

The Client Alert discusses the background and key elements of the Final Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, as well as its potential implications for solar development in the Western United States.  To view this Client Alert as a PDF, please click here.