Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Senator Harry Reid announce plans to fast-track commercial-scale solar power development on public lands.
In a plan announced on Tuesday, federal agencies will work with western leaders to designate tracts of U.S. public lands in the West as prime zones for utility-scale solar energy development; fund environmental studies; open new solar energy permitting offices, and; speed reviews of industry proposals.
Under the zoning portion of the initiative, 24 tracts of Bureau of Land Management land located in six western states, known as Solar Energy Study Areas, would be evaluated for their environmental and resource suitability for commercial-scale solar energy production. Those areas selected would be available for projects capable of producing 10 or more megawatts of electricity. The Solar Energy Study Areas (maps) located in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah encompass about 670,000 acres.
Speaking alongside Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Secretary Salazar vowed to have 13 “commercial-scale” solar projects under construction by the end of 2010. He set a goal of producing a total of 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.
Essentially, the plan would streamline the entire development process; coordinate zoning and environmental studies, and; prioritize the processing of the projects. The new plan will tap resources made available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law by President Obama.
“This environmentally-sensitive plan will identify appropriate Interior-managed lands that have excellent solar energy potential and limited conflicts with wildlife, other natural resources or land users,” said Secretary Salazar. “The two dozen areas we are evaluating could generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.”
Solar industry representatives applaud initiatives, some opposition still likely
“It’s about time to make the permitting process more efficient and provide greater guidance to solar developers,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association trade group, said in a statement.
But the plan will likely face opposition from some environmental groups and political leaders. In particular, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation opposing solar development on BLM land in the Mojave Desert back in March, calling the proposals “unacceptable.”
The federal Bureau of Land Management has received applications for 158 solar projects on 1.8 million acres capable of generating 97,000 megawatts, enough to power an estimated 29 million homes.