At a press conference in Las Vegas on October 12, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a program that will spur development of solar energy on 285,000 acres of public lands in six western states.
The government will no longer approve locations for solar projects on a case-by-case basis. Instead, the Interior Department has established 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) where permitting for development of utility scale power plants will pose “relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources.”
The plan—created for public lands within the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah—will offer access to existing or planned transmission, incentives for development within those zones, and a process through which to consider additional zones and solar projects.
Projects within the designated areas could produce as much as 23,700 megawatts (MW) of solar energy—enough to power approximately seven million American homes. The program also keeps the door open for the possibility of carefully considered and sited solar projects outside the SEZs, on about 19 million acres in “variance” areas.
In addition, the program includes a framework for regional mitigation plans and—to protect key natural and cultural resources—the program excludes a little under 79 million acres that would be “inappropriate” for solar development, based on currently available information.
“Energy from sources like wind and solar [has] doubled since [President Obama] took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” said Secretary Salazar. “This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs.”
Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes commented, “Never before has the Interior Department worked so closely and collaboratively with the industry, conservationists and sportsmen, alike, to develop a sound, long-term plan for generating domestic energy from our nation’s sun-drenched public lands.”
“Earlier in the week, on October 9, with the authorization of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site in Wyoming, Interior reached the President’s goal of authorizing 10,000 MW of renewable power on public lands.
Since 2009, Interior has authorized 33 renewable energy projects, including 18 utility-scale solar facilities, seven wind farms and eight geothermal plants, with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure. When built, these projects will provide enough electricity to power more than 3.5 million homes, and support 13,000 construction and operations jobs according to project developer estimates.
“We are proud to be a part of this initiative to cut through red tape and accelerate the development of America’s clean, renewable energy,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “There is a global race to develop renewable energy technologies—and this effort will help us win this race by expanding solar energy production while reducing permitting costs.”
Edited by Rachel Ramsey