skip navigation
  Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS  
secondary menu
News Frequently Asked Questions Glossary E-mail Services

 
   
Subscribe

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A list of frequently asked questions about the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Solar PEIS).

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about the Solar Energy Development PEIS. Click a question below to see the answer.

BLM's document containing Q's & A's on the Supplement to the Draft Solar PEIS is also available.

What is an EIS?

"EIS" is the abbreviation for environmental impact statement, a document prepared to describe the effects of proposed activities on the environment. "Environment," in this case, is defined as the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment. This means that the "environment" considered in an EIS includes land; water; air; structures; living organisms; environmental values at the site; and social, cultural, and economic factors.

An "impact" is a change or consequence that results from an activity. Impacts can be positive or negative, or both. An EIS describes impacts, as well as ways to "mitigate" impacts. To "mitigate" means to lessen or remove negative impacts.

Therefore, an EIS is a document that describes the impacts on the environment as a result of a proposed action. It also describes impacts of alternatives, as well as plans to mitigate the impacts.

For more information on the Solar PEIS, visit About the Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS.

Back to Top

What is a Programmatic EIS?

A Programmatic EIS evaluates the environmental impacts of broad agency actions, such as the development of programs or the setting of national policies.

For more information on the Solar PEIS, visit About the Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS.

Back to Top

Why Are the Agencies completing a Programmatic EIS?

The Solar PEIS is being prepared to meet the requirements established by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. A Programmatic EIS evaluates the environmental impacts of broad agency actions, such as the development of programs or the setting of national policies. For the DOE, development of new guidance related to environmental impacts would be considered in making decisions on whether to fund projects or guarantee loans for the deployment of solar energy projects on BLM-administered lands or other Federal, State, tribal, or private lands. The BLM is evaluating development of a new Solar Energy Program that would affect how all utility-scale solar energy development projects are administered on public lands and would involve the amendment of multiple land use plans. The BLM would establish its own environmental policies and design features (i.e., mitigation requirements) applicable to rights-of-way for utility-scale solar energy development projects on public lands administered by the BLM. Therefore, the proposed action will define and implement programs that set the stage for potential site-specific actions that might result in significant impacts on the environment, and thus a programmatic EIS is appropriate.

For more information on this topic, visit Why the Programmatic EIS Is Needed.

Back to Top

Why is the Solar PEIS Needed?

A number of Executive Orders (E.O.s), Congressional mandates, and federal agency orders and policies promote expedited and concentrated federal action supporting the development of domestic renewable energy resources. The BLM is considering taking further actions to facilitate solar energy development in compliance with these orders and mandates. The DOE is considering actions to do the same. Among these actions, both agencies are evaluating the implementation of new programs or whether to develop new guidance that will further facilitate utility-scale solar energy development and maximize the mitigation of associated environmental impacts.

Federal laws and regulations require the federal government to evaluate the effects of its actions on the environment and to consider alternative courses of action. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321), as amended, specifies when an environmental impact statement (EIS) must be prepared. NEPA requires that an EIS be prepared for major federal actions with the potential for significant impact on the quality of the human environment.

The Agencies have determined that the establishment of specific agency-wide solar energy programs and additional related policy constitute major Federal actions as defined by the NEPA and, thus, they have decided to jointly prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS). The Solar PEIS will examine the environmental effects of solar energy technologies that are ready for deployment at utility-scale. A utility-scale project is that which is capable of producing 20 or more megawatts of electricity for distribution to customers through the electricity transmission grid system.

For more information, visit Why the PEIS Is Needed.

Back to Top

What is the scope of the analysis in the Solar PEIS?

For the BLM, the proposed action in this PEIS is to develop and implement a new Solar Energy Program that would facilitate environmentally responsible utility-scale solar energy development by establishing environmental policies and design features (i.e., mitigation requirements) related to utility-scale solar energy development in six western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah). The study area has been limited to these six states because they encompass the most prospective solar energy resources suitable for utility-scale development over the next 20 years. In the Draft Solar PEIS, the BLM identified 24 proposed solar energy zones (SEZs) in the six-state study area as areas where the BLM would prioritize development. Through the Supplement to the Draft Solar PEIS, the BLM eliminated seven of these study areas from further consideration, reduced the areas of some other SEZs to avoid potentially high conflict areas, and identified non-development areas within some of the SEZs. The Final Solar PEIS made no additional changes to the proposed SEZs except for a reduction in the area of the Brenda SEZ.

For the DOE, the proposed action is to develop and accept public comments on programmatic guidance to further integrate environmental considerations into its analysis and selection of solar projects that it will support. DOE's proposed programmatic guidance is presented in the Final Solar PEIS (Chapter 2 of Volume 1).

For more information, visit What's In the Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS.

Back to Top

Which lands are included in the scope of the Solar PEIS?

The PEIS evaluates solar energy development in six southwestern states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Within these states, the BLM’s analysis focuses on public lands, or lands administered by the BLM. At this time, solar energy development is prohibited by law, regulation, Presidential proclamation, or Executive Order from some lands administered by the BLM (e.g., lands in the National Landscape Conservation System such as National Conservation Areas, National Monuments, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Historic and Scenic Trails). Under its new Solar Energy Program, the BLM will also exclude lands that it has previously identified in its land use plans as environmentally sensitive, such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern or other special management areas, that are inappropriate for or inconsistent with extensive, surface-disturbing uses.

Maps showing BLM-administered lands potentially available for solar energy development under PEIS alternatives are available.

Back to Top

Will the PEIS include the California Desert Conservation Area?

The PEIS will include those lands within the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) which are open to solar energy development in accordance with the provisions of the California Desert Conservation Area Plan of 1980, as amended. The PEIS will not include lands within the CDCA that have other special designations, such as National Monuments, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Desert Wildlife Management Areas, or other special management areas that are inappropriate for or inconsistent with extensive, surface-disturbing uses.

Maps showing BLM-administered lands potentially available for solar energy development under PEIS alternatives are available.

Back to Top

What are land use plans?

A land use plan is a set of decisions that establish management direction for land within a BLM administrative area, as prescribed under the planning provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA); it is an assimilation of land-use-plan-level decisions developed through the planning process outlined in 43 CFR 1600, regardless of the scale at which the decisions were developed. The term includes both resource management plans (RMPs) and management framework plans (MFPs). Land use plan decisions establish desired outcomes and actions needed to achieve them. Decisions are made using the planning process defined in 43 CFR Part 1600.

The land use planning process is the key tool that the BLM uses to protect resources and designate uses on BLM-administered lands. These plans help ensure that the public lands are managed in accordance with applicable laws and regulations under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield, recognizing the Nation's need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber while protecting the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water, and archaeological values.

For more information on this topic, visit Land Use Plans and BLM Planning Criteria.

Back to Top

What alternatives are being analyzed in the Solar PEIS?

The Final Solar PEIS evaluates three BLM alternatives: a no action alternative and two action alternatives. Under the action alternatives, the BLM would implement new policies and design features (i.e., mitigation requirements) for utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands and identify lands available for right-of-way application.

The Final Solar PEIS evaluates two DOE alternatives: a no action alternative and one action alternative. Under the action alternative, DOE has developed programmatic environmental guidance with recommended environmental best management practices and mitigation measures that could be applied to all DOE-supported solar energy projects.

For more information, visit What's in the Solar Energy Development PEIS. Maps showing BLM-administered lands potentially available for solar energy development under the three PEIS alternatives, including maps of the proposed SEZs are available. More information about proposed solar energy zones is also available.

Back to Top

What is BLM's preferred alternative?

The BLM's preferred alternative is the solar energy development program alternative. This alternative establishes authorization policies and procedures for utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands. Under this alternative, the BLM proposes categories of lands to be excluded from utility-scale solar energy development and identifies approximately 285,000 acres in specific locations well suited for utility-scale production of solar energy (i.e., SEZs) where the BLM would prioritize development. This alternative emphasizes and incentivizes development within SEZs and proposes a collaborative process to identify additional SEZs. The alternative also allows for utility-scale solar development in approximately 19 million acres of variance areas outside of SEZs in accordance with a proposed variance process.

For more information, visit What's in the Solar Energy Development PEIS. Maps showing BLM-administered lands potentially available for solar energy development under the BLM's alternatives, including maps of the proposed SEZs are available. More information about proposed solar energy zones is also available.

Back to Top

What solar energy technologies are analyzed in the Solar PEIS?

The Solar PEIS analyzes potential environmental impacts associated with the development, operation, and decommissioning of utility-scale solar energy projects; i.e. solar energy projects that can generate 20 MW or more of electricity to be put directly into the electricity transmission grid. The following technologies are included in the PEIS analysis:

  • Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)
    • Parabolic trough (including linear Fresnel reflector)
    • Power tower
    • Dish systems
  • Photovoltaic (PV) Systems – flat plate and concentrating

See the Utility-Scale Solar Energy and Electric Transmission Guide for more information about these utility-scale solar energy technologies.

Back to Top

What impacts and issues are addressed in the Solar PEIS?

Preliminary issues and management concerns associated with utility-scale solar energy development have been identified by Agency personnel, other agencies, and public stakeholders.

The Draft and Final Solar PEIS evaluate direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to:
  • Lands and Realty
  • Specially Designated Areas
  • Rangeland Resources
  • Recreation
  • Military and Civilian Aviation
  • Geologic Setting and Soil Resources
  • Minerals
  • Water Resources
  • Ecological Resources (including plants, wildlife, aquatic biota, and special status species)
  • Air Quality and Climate
  • Visual Resources
  • Acoustic Environment
  • Paleontological Resources
  • Cultural Resources
  • Native American Concerns
  • Socioeconomic Resources
  • Environmental Justice
  • Transportation
  • Hazardous Materials and Waste
  • Health and Safety

For more information, visit What's in the Solar Energy Development PEIS.

Back to Top

Are comments on the Draft Solar PEIS, Supplement to the Draft, and scoping comments available for public review?

Comments on the Draft Solar PEIS and the Supplement to the Draft, and responses to those comments, are available in Volume 7 of the Final Solar PEIS. Transcripts from the 14 public meetings on the Draft Solar PEIS include oral comments submitted at those meetings and are generally representative of the type of comments received on the Draft. The transcripts are posted on this Web site on the Materials and Transcripts for Public Meetings page. Comments from the initial scoping period during Summer 2008 are posted on this Web site on the Search Scoping Comments page. Comments from the second scoping period regarding proposed solar energy zones are posted on this Web site on the Search Proposed Solar Energy Zone Comments page.

Back to Top

Where are copies of the Draft and Final Solar PEIS and the Supplement available?

The Draft and Final Solar PEIS and the Supplement to the Draft Solar PEIS are viewable, printable and downloadable in electronic form (PDF) on this Web site on the Documents page.

Back to Top

What is the next step in the process?

After considering any additional comments received on the Final Solar PEIS and addressing any formal protests, the BLM plans to issue a Record of Decision that will implement its new Solar Energy Program. The BLM anticipates amending land use plans in the six-state study area to adopt those elements of the new Solar Energy Program that pertain to land use planning.

The DOE anticipates utilizing the programmatic environmental guidance presented in the Final Solar PEIS in evaluating solar projects proposed for DOE to support.

For more information, visit Public Involvement.

Back to Top

How will the public be involved with development projects on BLM-administered lands after the Solar PEIS is completed?

The public can become involved directly with individual development projects as they undergo site-specific environmental analyses.

Back to Top


Didn't see your question here?

You may contact us at solareiswebmaster@anl.gov. We'll do our best to answer your question.