The Biden administration is looking to aggressively expand the production of solar and wind energy facilities in western states, where the federal government owns and controls hundreds of millions of acres of land.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it is working on a new plan to accelerate "responsible solar energy development" on federally owned land and has already started reviewing three proposed solar projects in Arizona.
The federal government owns about 28% of all U.S. land, and that ownership is heavily concentrated western states. It owns more than half of the land in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Alaska and Oregon. Officials cited threats stemming from climate change as the reason to develop more solar and wind projects, and said building these facilities in western states is seen as part of the government’s stewardship of the land it owns.
"Our review of these proposed projects in Arizona, and a new analysis of the role public lands can play in furthering solar energy production, will help ensure we keep the momentum going to build a clean energy future, lower costs for families and create robust conservation outcomes on the nation’s lands and waters," said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
"We take seriously our responsibility to manage the nation’s public lands responsibly and with an eye toward the increasing impacts of the climate crisis. The power and potential of the clean energy future is an undeniable and critical part of that work," said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior Laura Daniel-Davis.
The three solar projects in Arizona will be built on nearly 8,000 acres of federally owned land, and BLM said it is in the process of looking at 65 other "utility-scale onshore clean energy projects" that have been proposed. "This includes solar, wind and geothermal projects, as well as interconnect gen-tie lines that are vital to clean energy projects proposed on non-federal land," the Interior Department said.
BLM is also starting preliminary reviews of more than 100 applications for solar and wind projects on government-owned land.
In preparation for more projects, BLM said it would soon propose updates to an environmental impact statement (EIS) on solar energy development in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. That EIS statement was aimed at guiding "responsible solar development" in western states, and the update is looking at adding additional states.
BLM said it would publish a public notice in the Federal Register this week on a new EIS that would start a 60-day comment period allowing stakeholders to provide feedback to this process. After that public comment period expires, BLM will work on a new, broader EIS that will also be subject to comment.
BLM is one of four federal agencies that manage more than 600 million acres of U.S. land, along with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Forest Service.