Nevada Solar Permitting Process (NV)
The steps of the Nevada solar permitting process are summarized in the chart below. Roll over each section for a summary of the regulations and permits it covers. Click a section to learn more about the required permits and regulations related to that topic.
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Solar Development in Nevada
Initially, solar developers in Nevada need to ensure that the applicable local Land Use Plan (LUP) allows for solar development projects. Developers will be required to seek an amendment to existing land use plans that do not allow the type of development necessary for the project, including an amendment to an applicable regional plan if their project qualifies as a “project of regional significance.”
Over 80% of the land in Nevada is managed by the federal government, the highest percentage of any state. The Nevada Division of State Lands (NDSL) only administers approximately 3,000 acres of state trust land. Consequently, most utility-scale solar projects will be built on either private or federal land. In the rare event that a solar project will be built on Nevada state land, the developer must obtain a lease from the NDSL. In addition, the development of transmission lines over state land requires the developer to obtain a Right of Way from the NDSL.
Developers must obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUC) if they qualify as a “public utility” and are seeking to develop energy generation facilities. The PUC must conduct a public hearing for any CPCN application filed by an electric utility, and developers may be required to file additional information. The PUC may then approve or deny a request for a CPCN.
For utility-scale solar projects in Nevada exceeding a capacity of 70 megawatts, developers must comply with the Nevada Utility Environmental Protection Act (UEPA). The developer must submit an application to the (PUC) for a UEPA permit. The Division of Environmental Protection within the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over the administration of environmental issues in the state and must review the application. However, the PUC decides whether to approve or deny the permit after the appropriate environmental studies have been conducted and a hearing has taken place.
For water uses involved in solar development projects (plant operations at a CSP facility, dust suppression for roads, construction activities, etc.), developers will likely need to obtain water through municipal or governmental supplies, private lease supplies, by purchase, or a new or changed water right. The Nevada Division of Water Resources (NDWR) administers the rules and regulations pertaining to water rights and should be consulted throughout any processes related to water rights and water access. Purchased water rights must be conveyed by deed and recorded in the office of the county recorder of each county in which the water is applied to beneficial use and in each county in which the water is diverted from its natural sources. Developers who purchase or lease a water right must also file a Report of Conveyance with the NDWR.
Federal Regulations and Permits for Solar Development
Federal land management agencies often have authority to allow development on federal land. For solar facilities the land managing agency will generally grant access to the land via a right-of-way (ROW) rather than a lease. The use of the land must conform to the Land Use Plan (LUP) that has been established by the agency, and if it does not, a revision or amendment of the plan may be required. The managing agency will be required to perform a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis before issuing the ROW. In addition, land management agencies will often condition the ROW on the procurement of all other permits required for the construction of the facility.
It should be noted that some agencies have developed programs tailored specifically to solar development on federal land. In some cases, the agencies have developed a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that can be used to shorten the NEPA process. In others, the managing agency has developed a series of policies that are designed to streamline solar ROW applications. The relevant managing agency should be contacted for more information regarding the solar ROW application process.
Land Use Planning
Solar projects on federal land must be consistent with the applicable Land Use Plan (LUP). Most federal lands are managed either by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the United States Forest Service (USFS). The BLM’s land use planning authority is found in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and many other public laws. FLPMA requires the BLM to develop and maintain LUPs called Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that cover individual planning units. The USFS’ land use planning authority is found in the National Forest Management Act of 1976. The LUPs, called Land Management Plans (LMPs), are prepared and implemented for each National Forest.
Siting a solar utility project on federal land requires permission from the managing agency. As stated above, federal land managing agencies will generally grant permission for utility-scale solar development in the form of a ROW. A ROW can be any legal instrument that authorizes a holder to use and/or occupy federal land under a grant. Most land management agencies have general regulations governing applications for a ROW, and some agencies have also promulgated specific procedures that relate specifically to solar development.
A NEPA analysis will usually have to be performed before the ROW can be issued. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) established policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment and outlines the process for implementing these goals within federal agencies. Projects that involve a "major federal action" trigger the NEPA process. Issuing a ROW on federal land generally requires a NEPA analysis.
In some cases, the land management agency will develop Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements which can be used to shorten and streamline the NEPA process. For example, the BLM has developed a Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SPEIS) for six southwestern states. The SPEIS provides NEPA analysis that can be applied to ROW applications and also outlines the BLM’s solar ROW application process and policies.
In addition, some agencies charge varying fees depending on whether the solar facility is producing energy. For example, the BLM rental schedule for utility-scale solar ROWs consists of two components. The first component is an annual, per acre base rental fee. The fee is based on the value of the land subject to the ROW. The initial base rent is due upon the issuance of the ROW. The second component is a megawatt (MW) capacity fee. The MW capacity fee is charged on an annual basis, starting when the facility begins producing electricity. The MW capacity fee is implemented over five years after the start of electrical generation to allow for diligent testing and operation, with the fee increasing by 20% each year.
Developers seeking to construct a utility-scale solar facility on federal lands must obtain a ROW or lease and all other necessary permits. Developers may choose to seek status as a Qualifying Facility under the Public Utilities Regulatory Act (PURPA). Qualifying Facility (QF) status allows the developers to sell energy or capacity to a utility, to purchase certain services from utilities, and provides relief from certain regulatory burdens. Developers may also qualify as Exempt Wholesale Generators if they are independent power producers that exclusively sell energy to wholesale customers and complete the self-certification process overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Obtaining EWG status can exempt the generator from certain reporting and accounting regulations under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and allows the generator to sell power at market-based rates.