Solar Development on BLM Land in Arizona

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Eddie Arreola, Supervisory Project-Manager for the Bureau of Land Management, Arizona’s renewable energy coordinating office, talks about the various proposals being considered for managing the development of utility-scale solar power plants on BLM lands.

Ted Simons: Conservation groups are urging the Bureau of Land Management to consider impacts on sensitive wilderness areas when selecting federal land for solar energy projects. Hearings will be held this week to get public input on the issue. Joining us now is Eddie Arreola, supervisory project manager for BLM Arizona's renewable energy coordinating office. Thanks for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.

Eddie Arreola: thank you.

Ted Simons; Let's talk about this. Give us the basics on the statement at the agency released regarding these applications for public lands.

Eddie Arreola: Basically we want to solicit comments from the public, basically we're telling them this is the results of our analysis, this is what we found, are there any additional comments you'd like to submit.

Ted Simons: What did you find as far as the agency is concerned?

Eddie Arreola: Basically we found we identified lands that are suitable for energy development, basically at what is suitable for the developer, and we went through a screening criteria stating we need to exclude areas with high resource conflicts. Areas that are critical to wildlife habitat. Etc., cultural resources, there's a myriad of screening criteria we go true.

Ted simons: It sounds like I guess there are three options, one is don't do anything, so we'll leave that one aside, but the two major options, let's start with the first one, it sounds like the BLM prefers this particular idea of solar development. There's 4.5 million acres here? Talk to us about that.

Eddie Arreola: Basically this option states that we identified 4.5 million acres that are suitable for solar. The analysis was done at a programmatic level. If we move forward with that 4.5 million acres we would still do site specific analysis to ensure there aren't any adverse impacts to that resource in that area.

Ted simons: We're looking at a map right now as far as the BLM lands available for solar development. The other one, the circle down there, that's the solar energy zone program. That's another option. How does that differ from the first option?

Eddie Arreola: Basically if we go that route we would focus in on those specific sites. And we would only allow solar development on those sites.

Ted Simons: OK. So one of them is 4.5 million acres, the second one, this second option seems like a lot less land, correct?

Eddie Arreola: Right.

Ted Simons: Why the difference there?

Eddie Arreola: Basically to analyze at a comparative difference. We analyze the site-specific areas at a more great -- at a greater detail. The larger aspect shows that we identified these areas as possible for -- suitable for solar development, but there's still some unknown issues that we need to address.

Ted Simons: Critics will say a lot of the area in the first option is sensitive wilderness, and is the kind of pristine wilderness that needs to be protected and shouldn't even be included. How does the agency respond?

Eddie Arreola: That's why we're holding these comment meetings. We want everybody to contribute their comments, tell us what they're their concerns are, what their issues are. You know.

Ted Simons: So basically what the BLM did was make it a big tent and hope everyone comes in and starts making things smaller and focusing from then on.

Eddie Arreola: Exactly it.

Ted Simons: sounds like the idea, especially from environmentalist and conservationallist, they like the idea if the land has already been disturbed in some way or already impacted. Try to go that land first as opposed to pristine wilderness. Does that make sense?

Eddie Arreola: It makes perfect sense. And Arizona is doing that in separate actions. And the draft is scheduled to be out in sent of this year. Basically what we want to identify is lands that have been previously disturbed and turn them around, reclaim them, and use them for solar development.

Ted Simons: So with the idea being best solar potential with the fewest environmental problems.

Eddie Arreola: Exactly.
Ted Simons: OK. It sounds like still in all, 22,000 some-odd acres over the next 20 years would be used for solar as projected right now. Is that somewhat accurate?

Eddie Arreola: Well, the accurate -- it's 200,000 acres, and basically that's under the reasonable foreseeable development scenario. Within the document. And basically what we did is take all our projects that have been moving forward through the analysis and that have been screened out, and could be developed to full -- into the full development phase, and that's -- those are the projects that are in place now. On BLM land.

Ted Simons; OK. So as far as getting public meeting and getting public input, what are you looking for? Who are you looking for and what do you needing to hear?

Eddie Arreola: Everybody. General public, special interest groups, developers, anything that we need to identify.

Ted Simons: OK. And we have public meetings the next couple days in Phoenix and Tucson? What's going on here? Give us some details.

Eddie Arreola: Yes. Tomorrow night at the Sheridan at 6:00 we'll have public meetings here. That's at the corner of I-17 and Dunlop. And then Wednesday night in Tucson at the Marriott.

Ted Simons: OK. And if people want to get some information because they're hearing this, I'd like to find out what kind of public lands are being considered for solar development and where these things are, what's the best place to go? What should they do?

Eddie Arreola: The best place to go is on our website, it's solarEiS.ANL.GOV. And it will give you an outline on how to submit comments.

Ted Simons: One more time with that.

Eddie Arreola: SolarAiS.ANL.GOV.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Eddie, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Eddie Arreola: Thank you.

Eddie Arreola:Supervisory Project-Manager,Bureau of Land Management;

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