The Sweetwater solar facility is seen through the chain-link security fence. (Hall Sawyer)

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will solicit comments on plans to boost “utility-scale” solar energy development on public lands, during one of a series of public meetings across the West in Cheyenne Tuesday.

The push is part of a federal effort to implement President Joe Biden’s goals for clean energy development and to address climate change. The administration touts a rapid expansion of industrial solar as necessary to promote energy security and “good-paying union jobs.”

“We take seriously our responsibility to manage the nation’s public lands responsibly and with an eye toward the increasing impacts of the climate crisis,” U.S. Department of Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis said in a December press release. “The power and potential of the clean energy future is an undeniable and critical part of that work.”

The meeting will be held from 3–7 p.m. Tuesday at the Laramie County Community College, Center for Conferences and Institutes.

Why it matters

The BLM manages some 227 million acres of surface across the interior West, including 18.4 million acres in Wyoming.

This 2021 graphic shows proposed renewable energy projects on Bureau of Land Management lands in the West. (Bureau of Land Management)

Though most existing industrial-scale solar and wind energy in Wyoming is located on private and state lands, developers are increasingly targeting federal BLM lands. The proposed expansion has ignited concerns over the potential to “industrialize” open spaces that include vital wildlife habitat, recreational and cultural resources.

Solar facilities can span large areas, and they’re typically fenced-off, limiting the function of wildlife habitat and potentially interrupting migratory paths. The Sweetwater Solar facility, for example, spans 700 acres — mostly BLM lands — north of Green River and was found to interrupt big game movements.

Plan revision

The BLM is expanding the scope of its 2012 Western Solar Plan from six western states to now also include Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. 

Since 2012, the agency has approved nearly 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects in the West, according to a 2021 fact sheet. One megawatt is enough to power 400 to 900 homes. To further expand and speed up approvals, the agency must revise a 2012 environmental impact statement. That process involves soliciting public comments to help identify, and ideally avoid, potential conflicts with other federal public land priorities.
The BLM published a notice of intent in the Federal Register Dec. 8, 2022, to update the 2012 EIS, kicking off a 60-day public comment period. Visit the BLM’s ePlanning website for information about the plan revision, and click here for current information about public meetings and how to submit comments.

This story was corrected to include the average number of homes powered by 1 megawatt of electricity.—Ed

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. We are concerned about our property on Wild Horse Ranch being used for solar power and impacting our wild horses eagles and antelope. We bought property here because of the wild horses and other wildlife in an area with already with very sparse feeding options.

  2. I think the people of Wyoming should get to vote on these things that others want to put on BLM land. Simply because most people think of that land as Govt. land but it is not. BLM land is public land owned by the people of Wyoming, the BLM is tasked with managing it for us. It is our land we should have a say. The powers that be are worried about a few oil locations affecting wildlife. When in all reality I see more Sage Grouse in the oil fields than other places, possibly because there is water. I have seen Antelope laying under the stairs on tanks in the heat of summer because that’s the only shade around. Where will they go when hundreds of acres are covered with solar panels and fenced off? For those of you who only think of the tourist dollars will there be tours of our spectacular solar facility?

    1. Pat Nelson,
      BLM land is “owned by the people of Wyoming, the BLM is tasked with managing it for us”. Incorrect, the public lands “belongs” to all Americans. I live in Montana, I strongly believe that I have just as much a right to provide input re. the management of all BLM lands, including those in Wyoming.

  3. These “industrial arrays” are in my opinion, bullcrap. In addition to the detriments to land itself and wildlife; there’s “line loss” from transmission and the blight of powerlines, which, unless they’re buried are susceptible to issues from weather and now, domestic terrorism. The most efficient application of solar photovoltaic cells is roof top installations at the point the energy will be used. In other words, rooftops. Spend the money to put solar PVC on the roofs of the citizenry and the commercial enterprises that will consume the power. Excess power generation can be fed back into the existing grid. Too simple eh.

    1. I agree that rooftop solar installations should be the first priority. It is the cheapest and least destructive of the energy alternatives. I also believe that large scale solar arrays can be built without major wildlife disruptions. It would cost more but as we’re learning our energy demands aren’t cheap.

  4. This country is committing suicide, all for the supposed good of the wealthy scum who rule it. Got nooze for ya: they’ll be as extinct as the rest of us; their kaputalist religion won’t save them.

  5. Make sure that there is a security deposit or bonding system setup for reclamation of the area. In my travels I have seen the eye sore of other green energy projects just left behind when the life of the project was done.

  6. I believe there is a typo here. Do you mean 3,000 megawatts of solar capacity is enough to power 900,000 homes?

  7. “Since 2012, the agency has approved nearly 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects in the West, according to a 2021 fact sheet. That’s enough to power roughly 9,000 homes. ”

    Only 9,000 homes?

    Care to fact check that number?

    1. The article says one megawatt could power up to 900 homes. 3000 megawatts could then potentially port up to two million seven hundred thousand homes. (3000 x 900) Or is my math off?

  8. this part of the country has to have industrial powered energy.
    coal is a good source since it is in abundance in wyoming.
    wind is a good source if you don’t mind a certain amount of dead birds.
    nuclear is clean but requires a large supply of water.
    solar is clean but requires a lot of open space.
    water is clean but the limited supply is needed for consumption.

    coal power in wyoming is the cheapest way to generate electricity.
    even the by-product of coal generation, coal ash ,has economical uses.