The US Interior Department rejects its first solar project

On November 20th, the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rejected Spanish developer Iberdrola’s application for a right-of-way for a 200 MW solar project in California’s San Bernardino County.

The agency cited biological, cultural, recreational and scenic impacts in its rejection of the Silurian Solar project, and ruled that some of these could not be mitigated. It also noted that there is sufficient area to develop projects within two approved Solar Energy Zones in California.

This is the first time that BLM has rejected an application for a project, after approving 18 solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands in the last four years.

The project fell outside of the BLM’s Solar Energy Zones, as created through its Western Solar Plan in 2012. While the plan does allow for projects outside these zones, such projects must go through a “variance” review process to determine if the area is suitable for development.

The project was planned for the Silurian Valley which lies between Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve. In a September 2014 interview with pv magazine, the Center for Biological Diversity identified the area as an important biological corridor.

Iberdrola argues that the region is far from pristine, noting that the Silurian Valley already has high-voltage transmission, highways, off-road vehicle use and commercial activities.

The company also says that the BLM’s variance process is being used to side-step the more transparent and established National Environmental Policy Act process.

“We have a significant amount of onsite- and landscape-level surveys to demonstrate the viability of this project against the perceived biological and cultural constraints, but those analyses are being withheld from any due process,” Iberdrola Renewables Communication and Brand Director Art Sasse told pv magazine.

Sasse says that Iberdrola is reviewing the decision and has not yet decided whether or not it will appeal. He also notes that the company’s Silurian wind project remains in the variance process.