The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has announced the first-ever statewide plan to identify and set aside previously disturbed lands for wind and solar energy development.
The initiative, called the Restoration Design Energy Project, designates a renewable energy zone on 192,100 acres of public land across Arizona as potentially suitable for utility-scale solar and wind energy development.
The publication of the record of decision (ROD) for the project caps a three-year, statewide environmental analysis of disturbed land and other areas with few known resource conflicts that could accommodate commercial renewable energy projects. The ROD also establishes the Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone, the third solar zone on public lands in Arizona and the 18th nationwide.
The lands identified in Arizona include previously disturbed sites (primarily former agricultural areas) and lands with low resource sensitivity and few environmental conflicts. Bureau of Land Management lands in Arizona containing sensitive resources requiring protection, such as endangered or threatened wildlife and sites of cultural and historic importance, were eliminated from consideration.
Furthermore, the areas selected had to have reasonable access to transmission lines and load centers as well as be situated near areas with high electricity demand.
The ROD also sets standards for projects to avoid impacts to sensitive watersheds, groundwater supplies and water quality, and establishes a baseline set of environmental protection measures for proposed renewable energy projects.
However, the initiative does not directly authorize any wind or solar projects; any proposal will need to undergo a site-specific environmental review.
"This project is a key milestone in our work to spur smart development of solar and wind energy on public lands across the West," Salazar says. "Arizona has huge potential when it comes to building a clean energy economy, and this landscape-level plan lays a solid foundation for making sure that it happens in the right way and in the right places."Â