- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the first three solar projects permitted under the Western Solar Plan, which pre-identified 19 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) and set up streamlined permitting that allowed the projects to be processed in less than 10 months.
- The three Nevada sites have a total capacity of 440 MW and will be built by Invenergy, First Solar, and NV Energy, The Hill reports. The companies won project rights in a June 2014 auction that brought the federal government a cumulative $5.8 million in leasing fees.
- The SEZs cover 32 projects in six western states: Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
Thoughtful planning at the landscape level and upfront public participation were keys to streamlining bureaucratic procedures and getting reduced permitting times that will make solar development in the SEZs more attractive to developers, according to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
The SEZ concept is predated by Texas’ highly successful $7 billion Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission planning program which was completed in 2014 and was pivotal in Texas current 14,000 MW of installed wind capacity. The state senate passed a measure in April to eliminate that program, along with the state's renewable portfolio standard, but it was held up in the state house and looks unlikely to pass.
An SEZ is defined by the BLM as an area with few impediments to utility-scale production of solar energy where BLM has prioritized solar energy and associated transmission infrastructure development.
State BLM staff members were asked to identify areas that were near existing transmission or designated corridors, near existing roads, generally had a slope of 1% to 2% or less, and were a minimum of 2,500 acres. They were also asked to screen out protected federal lands. BLM state and field office staff then applied additional filters based on local conditions, institutional knowledge, and coordination efforts.