By Anne B. Beaumont 

On January 18, 2013, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the approval of Arizona’s Restoration Design Energy Project (RDEP), a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiative to identify public lands in Arizona that may be suitable for renewable energy development.

The RDEP Record of Decision (ROD)[1] establishes 192,100 acres of renewable energy development areas (REDAs) on BLM lands across Arizona. These REDAs are available for solar or wind energy development and are close to areas with high electricity demand (such as population centers and industrial areas). They are also located near transmission lines or designated corridors. The identified lands include previously disturbed sites (such as retired agricultural lands and landfills) and consist of areas with low resource sensitivity and few environmental conflicts. Consequently, they are unlikely to contain resources protected by statute or policy. As part of its environmental analysis, the BLM eliminated from consideration lands that contain sensitive resources requiring protection.

The ROD also establishes the Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone (SEZ), located on 2,550 acres in western Arizona. This is the eighteenth SEZ in the nation and the third in Arizona. The other seventeen SEZs were previously identified in the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (Final Solar PEIS). Approved in October 2012, the Final Solar PEIS established the concept of SEZs as potential sites for utility-scale solar development. [2]

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the RDEP evaluated six action alternatives. Alternative 6 (titled the Collaborative-Based Alternative) combined the themes looked at individually in Alternatives 1 through 5 into one overarching alternative. This Collaborative-Based Alternative—which incorporated all of the concepts, issues, and protections from the other five alternatives—is the BLM’s environmentally preferred alternative.

In identifying the REDAs and SEZ, the RDEP does not eliminate the need for further environmental review of individual sites and proposed projects within those areas. In addition, proposed renewable energy projects outside of a REDA or SEZ will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the Final Solar PEIS.

[1] The ROD and Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments (RMPA) were released on January 18, 2013, and are available at

[2] For more on the Final Solar PEIS, see our previous blog entry and related Client Alert, available at Recently, three environmental organizations—Western Lands Project, Desert Protective Council and Western Watersheds Project—have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior challenging the program.