BLM seeks good green energy sites

Officials from the Bureau of Land Management were in town Thursday evening to explain a new plan to identify previously disturbed sites on BLM land that are ideal for alternative energy projects and encourage developers to use those sites instead of more pristine sites.

BLM Project Manager Kathy Pedrick explained that ever since the Obama Administration had offered incentives to encourage the growth of alternative energy sources, the department has been inundated with requests for BLM land.

In response, the federal government started a study of land in the West to identify the best lands for solar energy development, she said. The Restoration Design Energy Project presented to the small crowd of 10 people Thursday night is a local expansion of that federal study, known as the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Study. Information on that study can be found at http://solareis.anl.gov.

Speedy OK for developers

The Restoration Design Energy Project is supposed to identify ideal sites in Arizona for wind and solar projects on BLM land that have been previously disturbed by landfills, mines, etc., and don't have significant resources, endangered species or cultural resources, Pedrick said. The BLM also looked for sites that would make it easier for developers to get approval for their project.

Alternative energy developers will still be able to put in applications for other BLM land, but the idea is to steer them to "pre-selected" sites, where they will have a better chance of getting their projects approved and the department will be able to reclaim some of these sites, she said. It will also help protect more sensitive areas from development.

David Batts from EMPS, a company that partnered with the BLM to create the study, explained how the department used several state and federal databases on water availability, transmission lines, public input and BLM lands that were slated to be sold or transferred to narrow the study to 64 ideal sites in the state.

Mohave County sites selected

Four of the sites are located in Mohave County, including the Detrital Wash area, the Mokaac gravel pit, the Silver Creek landfill and Snowflake Mine. The Mokaac gravel pit is located in the Arizona Strip in the northern part of Mohave County. The Silver Creek landfill is located east of the Bullhead Parkway. Snowflake Mine is also located in the Arizona Strip area.

The project is currently in the draft phase of a federal environmental impact statement, Batts said. The maps and a copy of the draft environmental impact statement are available online at http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/energy/arra_solar.html.

The final plan will only apply to BLM-managed lands, however, the draft environmental impact statement addresses alternative energy use on all lands in Arizona and could be used as a resource for other developers, he said.

Resident Mark Shaver asked the department to give the public more time to review and comment on the final draft.

Water use one worry

Jim Kanelos asked the department to take a hard look at the available water and how much these businesses might use.

Batts responded that in certain areas the developers would have to meet additional requirements to conserve natural resources such as water.

For those unable to make the meeting, the BLM will be taking comments by email, fax and mail through May 16. Comments can be emailed to az_arra_rdep@blm.gov or faxed to Attn: Lane Cowger (602) 417-9454 or mailed to BLM Arizona State Office, Attn: Restoration Design Energy Project, One North Central Avenue, Suite 800, Phoenix, AZ 85004-4427.

The final impact statement is planned for release in the fall.