Where's the renewable energy on public lands? This map shows you

Public lands are a part of the climate solution

The world still has plenty of work to do to create a future supported by clean energy. But we’ve made a great start.
In the last century most energy development on our public lands was confined to coal, oil and gas extraction, contributing to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. As recent as eight years ago we had not tapped into our sunny western lands as a source of solar energy.
Now, the demand for renewable energy has grown and costs have plummeted. We’ve seen new wind, solar and geothermal development on our western public lands. The first solar project on public lands was approved in 2010, and in the years since many more projects have been approved.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has now approved over 11,000 megawatts of wind, solar and geothermal projects. The BLM estimates that the wind and solar projects it has approved could power roughly four million homes when they are built; BLM has not provided an estimate for the number of homes that could be powered by the geothermal projects. 

To show this progress, we’ve mapped the renewable energy projects the BLM has approved on our public lands.*

These projects demonstrate how our public lands can be part of the climate solution and help transition us away from fossil fuels and repower our society with renewable energy.
Click on individual projects in the map below to learn more about the technology used, the size of the project, its construction status, and for solar and wind, how many homes it could potentially power (using the calculation the BLM often uses of 300 homes per megawatt).

Despite progress made, there’s room to improve the way we carry out development on public lands.

Large renewable energy projects can disrupt wildlife habitat and harm wildlands if they’re not built in the right places. Since the early stages of renewable energy planning, we have learned important lessons about energy development that occurs at a large scale.
It’s encouraging to see an increase in renewable energy. The BLM has made great strides in building a responsible renewables program from scratch. Unfortunately, not all of the projects on this map are examples of this ‘smart from the start’ approach to developing energy on public lands. Mapping the BLM-approved projects does not mean that The Wilderness Society supports all of them. We simply hope to give readers a look at how much renewable energy has grown on public lands. 

Moving forward: a smarter approach to renewable energy development

Building a clean energy future does not have to come at the expense of our wildlands and wildlife habitat. Planning, scientific research and smart policies will ensure that projects are built in the right places—where the renewable energy potential is higher and environmental conflict is lower.
The best way to get the clean energy we need and protect the lands we love is to site projects in the right places. The BLM has created a number of policies to encourage responsible renewable energy development on our public lands. For example:

  • The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) designated pre-screened places for renewable energy development in the California desert and protected the most important wild areas for future generations.
  • The BLM’s Wind and Solar Leasing Rule incentivizes development in ‘smart from the start’ places like solar energy zones.

Continued investment to implement these programs is needed for them to succeed. This means helping projects succeed in designated renewable energy zones by dedicating BLM staff time to efficient permitting, designating new zones in appropriate locations, and keeping development of all kinds out of our wildlands. Using this approach, the BLM can ensure our public lands are a part of the climate solution and help support our booming clean energy economy, while still protecting the places we love for generations. 
*This map displays project data gathered from the BLM’s LR2000 database and BLM staff. We have not been able to obtain data on the location of a few of the projects from the BLM; we will update this map as we get additional data. The BLM has also approved “connected action” projects by authorizing transmission lines across public lands to connect private land projects to the grid, and these projects are not shown on our map.