As part of President Obama's initiative to spur renewable energy development, the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today released the draft plan for the Restoration Design Energy Project (RDEP). The initiative seeks to identify lands across Arizona 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.
Today's 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 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Project. The Draft EIS, including maps, will be made available online at http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/energy/arra_solar.html.
"With some of the most significant solar resources in the world, Arizona's renewable energy economy has great potential," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. "This blueprint for Arizona will help focus activity in the places where it makes the most sense to develop renewable energy, both for the companies and for the landscape. Early, comprehensive analysis of resource potential, transmission, and sensitive areas is simply good government. I am confident this smart planning will pay dividends for the state now and far into the future."
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 EIS also proposes a baseline for environmental protection measures for facilities sited in these areas. The Areas could be used for wind or solar projects, both utility-scale (more than 20 megawatts) or smaller distributed-scale development.
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, policy makers, and energy developers.
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.
The Restoration Design Energy Project complements a parallel process being undertaken by the BLM to conduct a comprehensive environmental analysis to identify "solar energy zones' on public lands in six western states, including Arizona. As part of RDEP Draft EIS, the BLM is evaluating an additional Solar Energy Zone, Agua Caliente. If adopted, the BLM's preferred alternative would designate a 6,770 acre Zone near Dateland in Yuma County, about 70 miles east of Yuma.
Previous public comments on the Restoration Design Energy Project were gathered in 2010, when the BLM held a series of scoping meetings to help determine what should be evaluated in the EIS. At that time, more than 60 specific disturbed sites were identified in 11 Arizona counties that are included in the analysis of potential Renewable Energy Development Areas.
Completion of the EIS for the Restoration Design Energy Project does not eliminate the need for further environmental review of individual sites. 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.
Public meetings on the Draft EIS will be held throughout Arizona during the public comment period. Residents can learn about the Restoration Design Energy Project and comment on the draft EIS at the meetings listed below, which will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
March 20: Phoenix, Sheraton Crescent Hotel, 2620 West Dunlap Avenue
March 21: Flagstaff, High Country Conference Center, 201 West Butler Avenue
March 22: Kingman, Hampton Inn, 1791 Sycamore Avenue
April 10: Yuma, Yuma Civic and Convention Center, 1440 Desert Hill Drive
April 11: Tucson, Holiday Inn, 4550 South Palo Verde Road
Comments on the draft EIS may be submitted by any of the following methods: Email: email@example.com; Fax: Attn: Lane Cowger, (602) 417-9454; Mail or other delivery service: BLM Arizona State Office, Attn: Restoration Design Energy Project, One North Central Avenue, Suite 800, Phoenix, AZ 85004-4427.