The Departments of Interior and Energy released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the program to establish "solar energy zones" (SEZ) in America's southwestern deserts. The Draft EIS evaluates the SEZs and other proposed permitting policies and guidelines that would streamline the process for government approval of solar energy projects on public land. The Solar Energy Zones proposed for California cover approximately 530 square miles, far more land than is being considered in other states.
If done correctly, the program could steer more energy development to already-disturbed lands, and away from pristine desert habitat. However, a cursory review of the SEZs proposed for California indicates that the Department of the Interior is still considering solar energy development in areas already confirmed to be of high ecological and cultural value, such as the Pisgah area (near the proposed Calico Solar power project) and the Imperial Valley. The Chuckwalla Valley in California's Sonoran Desert would also host one of the largest Solar Energy Zones that could severely fragment this area's habitat if the zone is not carefully configured.
The release of the Draft EIS starts a 90-day public comment period. Stay tuned for a more in-depth assessment of the proposed Solar Energy Zones in California's deserts. To view the DOI press release, you can visit the Desert Protective Council's website.