The Obama administration's new and more refined approach to solar energy development called the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy, establishes 17 “solar energy zones” on federal land that will “serve as priority areas for commercial-scale solar development.”
Previously, large-scale solar generation projects were evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Developers chose where they wanted to build, leading to land speculation and higher prices. Now, the Interior Department will direct developers to lands considered to have fewer resource and environmental obstacles.
The new solar zones will be found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. They also include 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert that was not previously slated for development.
Some environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy, that had been critical of the federal government’s previous approach to solar development in the desert, applauded the new plan. Others see the plan as being misguided.
Janine Blaeloch from the group Solar Done Right told the Los Angeles Times that the wholesale development of the desert is a mistake. "This should all be happening on rooftops and in cities," Blaeloch said. "But that wouldn't profit the big utilities... We aren't getting that public land back. Once it's industrialized, everything that lives there and everything we enjoy about it will be gone."
The Interior Department says that once developed, the solar zones could produce as much as 23,700 megawatts.