It was at least a year late, but today it finally arrived. The Draft Solar Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, a massive federal document addressing environmental concerns related to large-scale solar development — promised for more than a year by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Department of Energy, and ardently awaited by desert watchdogs — was made available today. It examines environmental impacts on desert ecosystems by large-scale solar plants and directs developers where and where not to site their projects.
The nearly 11,000-page report is available online here as well as on DVD and CD-ROM. Environmental and desert conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlands Conservancy, California Desert Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club have a daunting holiday reading assignment ahead of them, as they work to parse out the government's recommendations and environmental analyses pertaining to solar development throughout the American Southwest. So too do solar developers, who for the first time are faced with up-front siting guidelines and standards from the Bureau of Land Management.
A total of 24 proposed solar development zones are identified throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The report's 1,500 pages on California zooms in on four primary regions: Pisgah, Iron Mountain, Riverside East, and Imperial East. While these regions have been selected for in-depth study and mapping, development is not prohibited beyond them. Oakland company BrightSource has already broken ground on its Ivanpah plant north of the Mojave Regional Preserve near the Nevada border, an area that is not included in the document's proposed development zones.
The Draft Solar Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is open to public comment for ninety days, through March 17, 2011. Stay tuned; we'll post reactions from both developers and desert conservationists as soon as we can get them.