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BLM seeks public input on industrial solar projects

The federal agency wants to boost an existing program to approve large-scale renewable-energy projects on public lands, including in Wyoming.

The Sweetwater solar facility is seen through the chain-link security fence. (Hall Sawyer, Wyofile)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. —The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will solicit comments on plans to boost “utility-scale” solar energy development on public lands, during one of a series of public meetings across the West in Cheyenne Tuesday.

The push is part of a federal effort to implement President Joe Biden’s goals for clean energy development and to address climate change. The administration touts a rapid expansion of industrial solar as necessary to promote energy security and “good-paying union jobs.”

“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,” U.S. Department of Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis said in a December press release. “The power and potential of the clean energy future is an undeniable and critical part of that work.”

The meeting will be held from 3–7 p.m. Tuesday at the Laramie County Community College, Center for Conferences and Institutes.

Why it matters

The BLM manages some 227 million acres of surface across the interior West, including 18.4 million acres in Wyoming.

Though most existing industrial-scale solar and wind energy in Wyoming is located on private and state lands, developers are increasingly targeting federal BLM lands. The proposed expansion has ignited concerns over the potential to “industrialize” open spaces that include vital wildlife habitat, recreational and cultural resources.

Solar facilities can span large areas, and they’re typically fenced-off, limiting the function of wildlife habitat and potentially interrupting migratory paths. The Sweetwater Solar facility, for example, spans 700 acres — mostly BLM lands — north of Green River and was found to interrupt big game movements.

Plan revision

The BLM is expanding the scope of its 2012 Western Solar Plan from six western states to now also include Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. 

Since 2012, the agency has approved nearly 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects in the West, according to a 2021 fact sheet. One megawatt is enough to power 400 to 900 homes. To further expand and speed up approvals, the agency must revise a 2012 environmental impact statement. That process involves soliciting public comments to help identify, and ideally avoid, potential conflicts with other federal public land priorities.

The BLM published a notice of intent in the Federal Register Dec. 8, 2022, to update the 2012 EIS, kicking off a 60-day public comment period. Visit the BLM’s ePlanning website for information about the plan revision, and click here for current information about public meetings and how to submit comments.


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