Jeniffer Solis

(States Newsroom) Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Monday announced new steps to accelerate solar energy development on federal land in the West, a move that could further incentivize renewable energy development on Nevada’s vast public lands.

During a visit to the Sonoran Solar Energy Project in Arizona – a project on public lands expected to power 91,000 homes – Haaland announced a new process to develop a West-wide solar plan that will kick start the Biden administration’s plan to permit at least 25,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public land by 2025 as part of the Energy Act of 2020.

The new process is meant to identify areas with high solar potential and low conflict potential in order to “guide responsible solar development and provide certainty to developers.”

Federal officials say a new process needed to be established in light of improved technology, new transmission and ambitious clean energy goals.

“This Administration is committed to expanding clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America’s energy security and provide for good-paying union jobs,” said Haaland in a statement announcing the initiation of three proposed solar projects in Arizona. “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.”

Renewable energy development on public lands in the West growing rapidly

Nevada has more public land than nearly any other state – second only to Alaska – making Biden’s plan to increase renewable energy on public lands of key importance to the state.

Renewable energy development on Nevada’s public lands is growing rapidly. In fiscal year 2021, the Bureau of Land Management authorized 12 renewable energy projects on public lands, more than half of them in Nevada. The agency also said it’s on track to approve 48 wind, solar and geothermal energy projects by 2025, a majority of them in Nevada.

The planned energy projects have the capacity to produce an estimated 31,827 megawatts of electricity — enough to power more than 9 million homes — according to the Department of Interior, meaning the Biden administration may even exceed its goal of permitting 25,000 MW of renewable energy projects by 2025.

“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 for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis, in a statement. “The Bureau of Land Management is working diligently to ensure that its processes and pace maintain the momentum we are seeing from industry.”

The Bureau of Land Management will develop an updated plan to guide solar energy development on public lands through an updated Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement covering six Western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

As part of the update, the BLM is considering adding more states, “adjusting exclusion criteria, and seeking to identify new or expanded areas to prioritize solar deployment.”

Growing renewable energy development on Nevada public lands has caused a number of conflicts in recent years between developers, federal land managers, Native American tribes and conservation groups.

Last year a coalition of tribes, conservation groups and rural residents intensified a push for the creation of the Avi Kwa Ame national monument in Clark County after a wind farm developer applied to develop in an area considered sacred to several tribes. Later that same year, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against BLM for approving a geothermal energy project near a spring considered sacred to tribes and home to a rare desert toad.

A group of Moapa Valley residents also successfully campaigned against a massive solar project proposed on public lands near the town last year. While the project had the support of Gov. Steve Sisolak, it was eventually abandoned after major pushback from locals early in the process.

A notice to update the BLM’s 2012 Solar Programmatic EIS will be published in the Federal Register this week, followed by a 60-day public comment period, with interested parties invited to submit written feedback or participate in one of many upcoming in-person and virtual public scoping meetings. Following the public scoping period, the BLM will develop a draft programmatic environmental impact statement for public review and comment.