The U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released the draft plan for the Restoration Design Energy Project (RDEP), which seeks to identify lands across Arizona that are the most suitable for wind and solar power projects, with a focus on areas that are previously disturbed or have low natural- and cultural- resource conflicts.
The project seeks to establish renewable energy development areas on lands that are previously disturbed or have low resource sensitivity, including former landfills, brownfields, mines, isolated BLM parcels, and Central Arizona Project canal rights of way.
The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) also proposes a baseline for environmental protection measures for facilities sited in these areas. The areas could be used for both utility-scale and smaller distributed-scale wind and solar projects.
While the final plan will only apply to BLM-managed lands, the draft EIS examines all lands in Arizona and can serve as a resource for the public, policymakers and energy developers, the DOI explains.
The preferred alternative identified in the draft EIS calls for designating lands within five miles of utility corridors and existing transmission lines or near a point of power demand, such as a city, town or industrial area; and addresses water issues by instituting design features to avoid negative impacts to watersheds, groundwater supply and water quality.
The BLM manages about 237,100 acres in Arizona that meet these criteria. If adopted, the preferred alternative would amend several BLM resource management plans in the state to provide directed, landscape-scale planning for future solar and wind projects and allow for a more efficient permitting and siting process, according to the DOI.
Completion of the EIS for the RDEP does not eliminate the need for further environmental review of individual sites, the BLM notes. Proposed renewable developments outside of a renewable energy development area or a solar energy zone will also be considered on a case-by-case basis, and are subject to applicable BLM state and national policies for utility-scale solar energy development.
The publication of a notice of availability in the Federal Register marks the beginning of a 90-day public comment period on the BLM's draft EIS for the project. The draft EIS, including maps, will be made available online.