Visual Impact Analysis

The visual impact analysis sought to quantify how the construction of utility-scale solar facilities could affect the visual character of the California desert. The construction of multiple, utility-scale solar facilities, which can occupy several thousand acres and reach heights of 40 to over 600 feet, could have a significant impact on what the California desert landscape looks like. This is important because visual or scenic value is a defining characteristic of the desert and is important to residents and visitors alike. Significant changes to viewshed may be met by opposition from local residents. For example, attempts to install utility-scale wind power turbines off the coast of Cape Cod met strong resistance from local residents who were concerned about impacts that turbines would have on the view and indirectly on property values and quality of life.1 Underscoring the importance of visual resources, the BLM is required to consider impacts to visual resources through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

The visual impact analysis sought to identify the extent to which visual resources will be affected by solar development across the California desert landscape. For each of the three scenarios, we wanted to determine the number of visually-affected acres and the percentage of the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) these affected acres comprise. To get a sense of the magnitude of impact, we were interested in determining how many solar facilities could be seen from a particular place in the landscape. We also sought to compare scenarios to determine which scenario had a larger overall impact and which had a proportionately larger impact relative to the number of acres developed. Finally, we conducted a visual impact analysis of a viewshed from Mojave National Preserve as an example to demonstrate how solar development may affect areas valued for scenic views.

1 Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb, Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound (New York: Public Affairs, 2007).