The Biden administration is moving to the next development stage on a proposed plan that could reshape renewable energy deployment across the West.

Today marked the closing of the public comment period on the administration’s draft plan to update the Western Solar Plan. A coalition of climate, conservation, environmental justice, and tribal organizations submitted a letter supporting the update to the plan and urged the Bureau of Land Management to adopt the version of the plan known as “Alternative 5” as the best option for achieving its solar deployment goal while also prioritizing responsible renewable energy development by focusing applications towards lands that are both close to transmission and previously disturbed or degraded.

“Climate action is a positive-sum game, not a zero-sum game,” said David Woodsmall, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Through responsible planning, we can achieve a rapid transition to renewable energy while respecting wildlife, communities, and the ecological values at the heart of westerners’ appreciation for our iconic public lands system. We strongly encourage the administration to strengthen the Western Solar Plan in accord with our recommendations to ensure a rapid, equitable, and ecologically sustainable energy transition.”

“The Bureau of Land Management stewards high-quality acreage for solar development, and highly sensitive lands that are home to numerous species, critical ecosystems, cultural sites, and popular recreation areas,” said Josh Axelrod, senior policy advocate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The agency’s landscape level analysis of solar development potential across the western U.S. provides a huge opportunity to double down on a directed development framework that guides efficient and much needed solar development away from sensitive lands and towards already disturbed lands within close proximity to transmission.”

“Updating the Western Solar Plan provides an opportunity for the BLM to make public lands part of the climate solution by ramping up solar deployment — and doing so responsibly. By guiding solar projects on public lands away from wildlife habitats, cultural resources, and other sensitive places and toward lower-conflict areas, we can better ensure that our urgent transition to a clean energy economy is faster, more responsible and meets our climate imperatives,” said Justin Meuse, Government Relations Director from The Wilderness Society. “The organizations represented in this letter reflect the diverse voices who care deeply about our nation’s public lands and we all understand the imperative role these lands play in the climate fight. Together, we can ensure our clean energy transition provides us with a more just, equitable and sustainable future we all know is possible.”

The proposed update to the Western Solar Plan is the latest move by the Biden Administration to speed our transition to a clean energy economy while conserving public lands. The draft aims to determine the acreage of federal public lands required for solar energy projects to achieve a net zero grid across all clean energy generation types. Previous BLM analysis has projected that figure at 700,000 acres needed by 2045 to achieve current and future national clean energy goals, long-term energy security, climate resilience, and improved conservation outcomes.

“Transitioning to clean and renewable energy and conserving public lands are both critical for taking on the climate crisis,” said Jackie Feinberg, National Lands Conservation Campaign Manager at Sierra Club. “Updating the Western Solar Plan is the perfect opportunity to outline a new path for renewable and clean energy development in the U.S. which increases our energy capacity, preserves fragile landscapes, and considers critical Tribal and local input before breaking ground.”

The draft plan examines different criteria, applied in five different versions, that would broadly focus siting applications toward lands with lower conflicts with wildlife, cultural resources, and communities.

“This plan has the potential to make solar energy development on public lands more efficient while preserving lands that are critical for bird conservation,” said Garry George, senior director of climate strategy at the National Audubon Society. “More than 300 bird species use America’s public lands during their life cycle—including Greater Sage-Grouse, Sandhill Cranes, and Burrowing Owls. Expediting solar PV on degraded lands close to transmission lines would avoid impacts to birds while making important progress on our nation’s clean energy goals.”

“We have a tremendous opportunity to combat climate change and protect the vast intact landscapes across the West, including our national parks,” said Matthew Kirby, Senior Director, Energy and Landscape Conservation, National Parks Conservation Association. “This solar plan has the potential to guide us toward a clean energy future that protects the delicate ecosystems and wildlife that share our public lands. We hope the administration considers the voices of communities deeply familiar with the intricacies of striking this crucial balance and look forward to working together to get this plan over the finish line.”

The coalition is also calling for a series of improvements to Alternative 5 in the final solar PEIS and Record of Decision to achieve a transformative and long-lasting plan. In particular, those improvements include:

  • Clarifying and updating exclusion criteria, guiding applications toward lands that are lowest-conflict and previously disturbed or degraded;
  • Programmatic design criteria and the development of regional mitigation strategies that avoid, minimize, mitigate, and compensate for any impacts of solar development; and
  • Continued meaningful and robust tribal consultation throughout the process.

With the comment period now closed, the BLM will review the input received on their draft PEIS and will work to finalize their updates to the Western Solar Plan.

“The Conservation Lands Foundation is a strong supporter of the Biden-Harris administration’s strategy to protect 30 percent of US lands and waters by 2030 and utilize our public lands for responsible renewable energy projects that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Kara Matsumoto, policy director for the Conservation Lands Foundation. “We can achieve both if we proceed with a “smart from the start” landscape-scale approach, ensuring that sensitive and significant areas are set aside for conservation, cultural resource protection, and recreation. New areas for renewable energy development must and can be balanced with conservation outcomes.”


David Woodsmall, Western Environmental Law Center, 971-285-3632,

Ian Brickey, Sierra Club, , 202-675-6270

Emily Denny, The Wilderness Society, , 202-240-1788

Andrew Scibetta, Natural Resources Defense Council, , 202-289-2421

Megan Moriarty, National Audubon Society, , 917-842-9820

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