Earlier this week, the Department of the Interior announced the federal component of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), an innovative landscape-scale plan that identifies areas best suited for utility-scale renewable energy development on more than 10.8 million acres of public lands in the California Desert.

The plan identifies several Development Focus Areas, totaling 338,000 acres, which were deemed particularly well suited for solar, wind and geothermal development due to their high resource potential, access to transmission, and minimal resource conflicts. Applications for renewable energy development in these areas would benefit from a streamlined permitting process. The plan also designates five million acres of conservation areas and an additional 3.8 million acres of special recreation areas that would be closed to renewable energy development. An additional 40,000 acres of lands are designated as Variance Process Lands, where proposed renewable energy development would undergo an extensive pre-application process and additional studies. Finally, some 800,000 acres of Unallocated Lands are not designated for either renewable energy or closed to development, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will continue to manage these lands for multiple uses.

By guiding project developers toward the areas best suited for renewable energy development and away from sensitive resources, the plan aims to streamline federal reviews and promote the development of utility-scale renewable energy and transmission projects in the area. The plan represents the culmination of a collaborative effort among BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), California Energy Commission, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), as well as an extensive stakeholder engagement and public comment process.

A number of important procedural steps will take place over the coming days. On Friday, November 13, BLM will publish in the Federal Register a final Proposed Land Use Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement outlining these reforms. The public notice will trigger a 30-day protest period, during which time any person who participated in the planning process for the Proposed Land Use Plan and could be adversely affected by the final proposed plan may challenge the agency’s decision. Following resolution of any protests to the Land Use Plan, BLM will issue its final Record of Decision.

The DRECP is part of the Department of the Interior’s effort to streamline renewable energy development through landscape-scale planning. The second phase of the DRECP will include an effort to better align federal, state and local plans covering the entire 22.5 million acre DRECP Plan Area. Two other key plans focused on the non-federal portion of the DRECP will be finalized during this phase: 1) the FWS’s General Conservation Plan, which will provide for streamlined FWS review of proposed renewable energy projects on non-federal lands where the applicants comply with the General Conservation Plan; and 2) CDFW’s Natural Community Conservation Plan, which will establish area-wide wildlife protection while allowing compatible economic activity. Together, these plans and the BLM decision announced today are intended to provide a blueprint for renewable energy development and conservation in the California Desert, identifying the areas best suited for each, with the goal of expediting individual project reviews.