BLM renewable energy land

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The Bureau of Land Management will be holding hearings this month to discuss land that could be restored to make it suitable for renewable energy projects. Jim Kenna, BLM State Director, explains the project.

Ted Simons: The bureau of land management has a plan to revive previously developed or otherwise disturbed lands for alternative energy production. Here to talk about the plan is Jim Kenna, the BLM state director for Arizona. Good to have you here.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us.

Jim Kenna: Appreciate your inviting me.

Ted Simons: The Arizona restoration design energy product. Explain.

Jim Kenna: Well, we're really trying to do two things. We're trying to look at sites where there's been a previous land use and generally those are disturbed and look at the potential for those sites for renewable energy generation. And we sort of backed into this to be quite honest in terms of how we got to it. When I came in as state director about a year ago, we had 40 applications, half a million acres under application for various solar projects and looking at those applications, it seemed like most of them were on open desert and on disturbed lands so the question really was shouldn't we add the disturbed lands to the mix so we can sort of widen out what we're looking at when we're answering the question what should the footprint of renewable energy in Arizona be?

Ted Simons: When you're talking about renewable energy, you're talking solar, wind, geothermal, these sorts of things?

Jim Kenna: Yes. In Arizona, it's heavy to solar, southern part of the state. Actually, if you look at a national map for solar potential, Arizona is all high for almost the whole state. We also have a band of high-potential wind up in the north part of the state then some of the other areas there are some smaller potentials for biomass.

Ted Simions: What makes a good location? What are you looking at as far as a proposed location? Obviously has to be disturbed or something along these lines but the slope of the land? What do you look for?

Jim Kenna: Well, at this point in the process, there's kind two of answers to that. One at this point in the process, we're pretty open. We'd like to -- we're entering into a scoping process -- what we call scoping -- where we're going out and asking people what do you think are the best places to do this? But there's also a second part. We have done a lot of informal looking already and really what we've gotten so far, there's a pattern. There are a number of capped landfills; there are a number of mine sites we're looking towards restoration and dedication. There are some lands that are in the middle of other areas that have been disturbed around them that become isolated parcels so there are patterns we're already starting to see in terms of what is being advanced but there are other potential sites that could come up. For example an abandoned agricultural field might fit into the pattern.

Ted Simons: I ask the question regarding how the determining factor and what would be factored in there because you mentioned soil, Water availability, these sorts of things has to factor into it?

Jim Kenna: Well, sure, there are a whole bunch of technical requirements around energy generation. And some of them have to do with proximity to transmission. They have to do with what the time might look like. They have to do with proximity load so we're going to go around the state and we're going to talk about a whole variety and there are -- the questions on the site itself, wildlife conflicts, water issues, those kinds of things, there are technology questions as well. Which type of technology might you apply? Is it photovoltaic, is it concentrated solar trough? There are also questions about how it fits to the transmission system and where the capacity to absorb the incoming generation is? So all of those questions are going to play into this overlay of what areas need the restoration? Where's the potential? How's it fit to the energy system we have in Arizona?

Ted Simons: I found the transmission aspect fascinating because you have to be relatively close or have some sort of path, I would imagine, to the lines, correct?

Jim Kenna: Well, I think so. And you also have to have a concept for how you're going to intertie and different technology do that a little bit differently so all of those factors -- we have two things sitting side by side that's complex. We have to do a system design that respects both of they on the other hand, we have a natural system that's complex on how wildlife moves where the vegetation communities are. The fish, the wildlife, the birds all of that on the other side, you have a very technical system in place that generates energy and transmits it to people's homes so that the light switch comes on when they go home from work at night. So all of that needs to be thought about together to come up with what is the most logical answer and we're in a period where the technology is evolving rapidly as well. So there's a lot in motion here. That's why it's really important to have a robust dialogue with the public.

Ted Simons: And part of that robust dialogue, I would imagine, would include neighboring land owners. How big a factor there? I mean, you could have the perfect spot but if farmer Jones over here doesn't want that sort of business there next to him, how much of a factor is that?

Jim Kenna: That's a big factor. That's one of the reasons for look at this potential. There are some sites that get advanced into this process that don't make it, because as we get deeper into them, there are conflicts that can't be resolved, there are issues that get developed that we just don't think it's the right place to go, But it also could be that we end up with some partnerships that we hadn't anticipated. We've already had some discussions, for example with the department of state land and we could end up doing some joint things with the department of state land. There are possibilities where we could look at the revenue generation aspect of this, doing something positive for the school funds, at the same time, we deliver renewable energy and we look to do some reconfiguration of the land ownership pattern for conservation purposes. So it's possible to really think about this as a system design kind of question.

Ted Simons: How many sites proposed so far?

Jim Kenna: Right now, we have 45 sites.

Ted Simons: Where are they located, mostly?

Jim Kenna: There are 10 counties so it's all over the state but if I were to say concentrations, load centers are places, along phoenix and along Tucson and along transmission. You see some along the major transmission lines. Along interstate 8, along interstate 10, 40 and those probably are a good summary of where they are.

Ted Simons: Who is paying for all of this?

Jim Kenna: The analysis process is something we're going to do as a federal agency but we're hoping to get cooperators into the process and probably an important piece to note here is this is unique to Arizona. We're a pilot on a national level and it's being funded as a stimulus fund project. So the contractor work that is being done outside of the agency will be funded through those dollars.

Ted Simons: As far as the time line is concerned? Again, three hearings just this month and then what?

Jim Kenna: We're going to actually do about nine of these around the state. Three closer in the local area but we'll be accepting ideas about alternatives that we should be sure to look at and about issues that people are very concerned about until march 11th.

Ted Simons: Ok.

Jim Kenna: And then we'll go into a draft, environmental impact statement stage of the process where we'll actually take that do some analysis and later in the year or early next year, we'll come back to the public with that analysis and say, what do you think?

Ted Simons: All right, well, very interesting. It's fascinating stuff. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jim Kenna: Absolutely. Thank you.

Jim Kenna:Director, Bureau of Land Management;

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