David A. Goldberg and Daniel S. Feinberg

The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) has extended the public comment period for the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (“Draft Solar PEIS”) by thirty days to April 16, 2011.  The Draft Solar PEIS should be of interest to any developer seeking to build utility-scale solar energy projects or associated transmission infrastructure on public lands in the Southwestern United States, as the adoption of any of the study’s proposed plans of action could dramatically influence solar energy development on BLM-administered lands.

The Draft Solar PEIS is a detailed study released in December 2010 by BLM and the Department of Energy that evaluates the environmental, economic and social impacts of solar energy development on BLM-managed public lands in the Southwest.  As part of the study, BLM identified 24 “solar energy zones” (“SEZs”) that it deemed most suitable for environmentally sound, utility-scale solar energy development in six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.  The study addressed three alternatives for managing utility-scale solar energy development: a solar energy development program alternative and a solar energy zone alternative (collectively, the “action” alternatives), and a no-action alternative.

By David B. Amerikaner, Marc T. Campopiano, and David A. Goldberg 

In a legislative effort that could impose a significant new requirement on electric utilities that sell in California and have important ramifications on power producers, electrical infrastructure, and energy markets throughout western states, the California Senate voted on February 24, 2011 to approve Senate Bill SBX1 2 to increase California’s existing Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS).  Authored by Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, the bill would  require utilities to obtain 33% of their total energy supplies from renewable sources by December 31, 2020.  The current RPS sets a 20% renewable energy mandate by 2010.  Statewide compliance (PDF) with the RPS reached 18% by the end of 2010 and is expected to surpass 20% by 2012.  Senate Bill SBX1 2 still needs to pass the state Assembly.  Governor Jerry Brown has previously expressed his support for raising the RPS.

The California Public Utilities Commission has estimated (PDF) that a 33% by 2020 RPS will require almost a tripling of available renewable electricity supplies, potentially requiring $115 billion in new infrastructure investment and at least seven major new transmission lines.