The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released its final analysis of the environmental impacts of opening up an area of the Californian desert to testing and developing renewable energy.

In its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Proposed California Desert Conservation Plan Amendment, the BLM recommended proposals to create a new ‘solar energy zone’ in the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area (REEA) of Imperial County. The move could provide incentives for future solar development in the area.

 “We want to make sure that we’re developing energy in the right way and in the right places on our nation’s public lands,” said BLM-California State Director Jim Kenna. “This thorough environmental review and public process helps identify, on a landscape-level, the areas that make most sense for renewable energy development in this part of the desert.”

If a solar energy zone is created, any proposed renewable energy project would undergo a site-specific environmental review. Under the preferred alternative, the BLM would restrict development on river banks and in sensitive habitats within the REEA and would not allow certain renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines, that would conflict with local military operations.

Currently, as part of President Barak Obama’s strategy for developing appropriate domestic energy resources, it has been decided that 20,762 acres of BLM-managed land in the REEA will be available for testing and developing solar and wind energy facilities.

The leasing of 19,162 acres of federal mineral estate near Niland, California, will be used for geothermal energy testing and development. The Final EIS also analyses the potential environmental impacts of approving a pending geothermal lease application in the REEA.

Publication of the Federal Register Notice of Availability for the EIS/Proposed Plan Amendment will begin a 30-day consultation period, after which the BLM will decide how to proceed.