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Interior Dept. announces U.S. solar energy zones

Last Thursday, the Department of the Interior released an updated list of pre-approved solar energy zones as determined by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The BLM surveyed public lands to determine prime areas for large-scale solar energy projects with minimal environmental, cultural and historical conflicts.

The plan is a supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development (Solar PEIS). The Draft PEIS was released in December 2010.

The plan includes 17 sites in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico covering a total of 285,000 acres. The draft originally included another seven sites covering an additional 392,000 acres.

By identifying the most suitable areas in advance, the project aims to spur utility-scale solar projects by reducing delays in approving development proposals.

Biologists log the locations of desert tortoises, which will be relocated away from the construction area of a solar energy facility in California's eastern Mojave Desert. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

“Advancing the deployment of utility-scale solar projects will not only help provide clean power to local utilities, it will also drive down the cost of solar energy and create American jobs in the rapidly-growing clean energy economy,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar called the plan “a blueprint for landscape-level planning that will help facilitate smarter siting of solar energy projects.”

Public lands outside of the solar energy zones are still open to applications for potential developments.

Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said that a preliminary review of the proposal found some “significant areas of concern regarding the viability of a solar-energy zone approach. Siting flexibility and access to transmission are key to the financing and development of utility-scale solar power plants. Both aspects must be reflected in the final PEIS.”

The plan will now face a 90-day public comment period and is expected to be finalized in 2012. Read the supplement here.


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