EVS is supporting a federal program for managing utility-scale solar power development in six Southwestern U.S. states.

Argonne’s Environmental Science Division (EVS, Argonne, IL, U.S.) published a report identifying potential environmental, cultural and socio-economic impacts of utility-scale solar energy development.

The release, which provides applicable mitigation measures as well, summarizes information from the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (Solar PEIS), which Argonne prepared for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Solar Energy Technologies Program.

Potential impacts of CSP and PV on public lands can be reduced

Solar PEIS is a step forward in permitting utility-scale projects like concentrating solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) technologies on public lands by identifying priority areas for solar energy development mitigating potential impacts. Impacts to water, ecological, visual, and cultural resources may present the greatest risks to project approval. 

Dry-cooling technologies for CSP or PV technologies to minimize water use

Utility-scale solar facilities, which include parabolic trough, power tower, and dish engine Concentrated Solar Power systems, and photovoltaic technologies, can occupy large tracts of land. CSP technologies, in particular, can also consume large quantities of water, ranging from about 2,000 to 6,000 acre-feet/yr. (700 to 2,000 million gallons/yr.) for a wet-cooled 400-MW facility. Using dry-cooling technologies or PV technologies, the water use can be reduced to about 200 to 400 acre-feet/yr. (65 to 130 million gallons/yr.).

Appropriate site and technology selection and the incorporation of mitigation measures into project designs can minimize potential impacts, and reduce the overall risk of project failure.

EVS’s report provides the basis for new policies and programs established by both the BLM and the DOE to guide and facilitate future solar energy development, supporting further work by the BLM to implement its new solar energy program. Additional research will evaluate water availability issues and impacts to visual resources, providing again potential mitigation measures and assessing human health risk for building solar facilities on contaminated lands.