The region accounts for 72% of all U.S. solar energy production.
Transportation leads the region in energy consumption, representing about 15% of nationwide transportation sector consumption.
The federal government owns and manages 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. Ownership is concentrated in the West, with 47% of the 11 western states and 62% of Alaska under federal control, but only 4% of lands in the other states.
The Solar Southwest states are characterized by skyrocketing populations and concurrent increases in energy needs. Nevada, Arizona and Utah were the three fastest-growing states between 1990 and 2010, while California enjoyed the second-highest numerical growth over those two decades, as 7 million new people entered the Golden State. The westward migration has slowed slightly in the last five years, but all of these states except New Mexico remain well above the national average (3.28%) in population growth rate.
This population surge has required new energy sources, energy infrastructure and linkages to energy markets. Arizona, New Mexico and Utah all produce more electricity than they consume, thanks to coal and natural gas resources, and—for Arizona—the largest nuclear power plant in the nation. Nevada and California, however, both have negative net electricity flows. Nevada’s deficit is understandable, as the state has few fossil fuel resources and limited water sources for hydropower. California, on the other hand, possesses abundant energy resources, but population gains have simply outpaced in-state generating capacity.
The generation of electricity in power plants often requires water—a resource in scarce supply in the arid Solar Southwest. Minimizing the use of water in conventional generation will likely be a policy priority for all Western states as they struggle through a prolonged drought.
The federal government holds 47.7% of California land. The Department of the Interior's recent Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan will facilitate the development of solar power and other renewable energy projects on and across millions of acres of federal desert land.
The federal government holds 34.7% of New Mexico land, including large portions of the SunZia Corridor, a proposed 515-mile transmission corridor that will channel wind and solar energy from eastern New Mexico to customers in Arizona and California.
The federal government holds 81.1% of Nevada land, which is the highest percentage of any state. Most large-scale energy infrastructure projects thus require some federal rights-of-way.