Western Solar Plan Charts Course for Development on Public Lands

The BLM’s proposed maps could open up as much as 55 million acres to solar installations.

1 minute read

April 11, 2024, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Solar panel array with Mojave Desert mountains in background.

Solar array in the Mojave Desert. | andreiorlov / Adobe Stock

A debate over where to place solar installations on public lands is building in the West, writes Erin X. Wong in High Country News. In January, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft Western Solar Plan that offers five alternative maps for solar placement.

“The plan is focused on utility-scale solar projects that sell energy to utility companies that power cities and towns,” Wong explains. The plan estimates the West will produce 174.2 GW of power via solar installations, with up to 75 percent of arrays on BLM land.

Wong describes three of the plan’s proposed alternatives, which would allow solar development on anywhere between 11 million acres and 55 million acres, offering different levels of protection for cultural and ecological resources. 

One alternative would open all land that doesn’t include protected resources, another would only open regions within a 10-mile radius of transmission lines, while a third would only make previously disturbed land available. “Ultimately, about 1 million acres of BLM land in the West will need to be developed to meet the nation’s clean energy goals, according to the draft analysis.” BLM says it will likely finalize the plan by the end of this year.

Monday, April 1, 2024 in High Country News

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