Under initiatives announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., 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.
‘The two dozen areas we are evaluating could generate nearly 100,000 MW of solar electricity,’ states Salazar. ‘With coordinated environmental studies, good land-use planning and zoning, and priority processing, we can accelerate responsible solar energy production that will help build a clean energy economy for the 21st century.’
Under one initiative, 24 tracts of Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered land located in six western states, known as Solar Energy Study Areas, would be fully evaluated for their environmental and resource suitability for large-scale solar energy production. The objective is to provide landscape-scale planning and zoning for solar projects on BLM lands in the West, allowing a more efficient process for permitting and siting responsible solar development, according to Salazar and Reid.
Those areas selected would be available for projects capable of producing 10 or more MW of electricity for distribution to customers through the transmission grid system. Companies that propose projects on that scale in areas already approved for this type of development would be eligible for priority processing. The BLM may also decide to use alternative competitive or non-competitive procedures in processing new solar applications for these areas.
Salazar and Reid also announced the opening of a new DOI renewable energy coordination office (RECO) in Nevada – the first of four – with the others located in Arizona, California and Wyoming. The RECO offices will help to expedite processing of the increased number of applications for renewable energy projects on U.S. lands.
Currently, BLM has received about 470 renewable energy project applications. Those include 158 active solar applications, covering 1.8 million acres, with a projected capacity to generate 97,000 MW of electricity.
Finally, the DOI is coordinating with states to expedite permitting for a number of solar power projects nearing approval. The BLM will begin site-specific environmental reviews for two major projects in Nevada that would have a combine capacity of more than 400 MW of electricity
Additional information on the BLM's renewable energy program is available at www.blm.gov.
SOURCE: Department of the Interior