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UPDATE: Western Solar Zones to Streamline Development on Public Lands

Update: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar officially announced last week that the Department of the Interior has designated 285,000 acres of public land for solar development on pre-sited zones in the Western states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, as RenewableEnergyWorld.com reported in July.

From our July report:

The Wild West days of American solar development are nearing their sunset with the release and likely adoption of federal guidelines that more clearly define where large-scale projects can be sited.

The document, released by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, is the culmination of two years of dialogue between regulators, environmentalists, industry advocates and the public at large. On Tuesday, the DOI unveiled the much-awaited Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which sets a vision for development on public lands in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The Interior has approved 17 zones for utility-scale solar energy projects on about 285,000 acres of public land with combined resources of nearly 32,000 megawatts (MW). It also sets up a process to allow development of what the DOI calls “well-sited projects” on 19 million acres outside those zones. PEIS estimates that the zones and the variance areas will eventually lead to about 23,700 MW of development.

The PEIS has focused on identifying locations on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands best suited to large-scale solar. To be included, the zones had to have excellent solar resources, good transmission potential and minimal environmental, cultural or historical conflict.

Renewable energy development — especially solar — has turned some prized development areas into battlegrounds over conservation and habitat protection. That’s caused an uneasy divide between solar companies pushing cleaner technologies and environmental groups aiming to shelter sensitive areas. The guidelines would streamline much of the development process, and it would cut into both the time and litigation that has beset some of the larger Western projects. In fact, it would exclude 78 million acres of public land from solar development.

The document also outlines a process for the industry and the public to propose new or expanded zones. According to the DOI, efforts already underway include California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation, Arizona’s Restoration Energy Design Project, and other local planning efforts in Nevada and Colorado.

Following Tuesday’s release, there will be a 30-day protest period. After that, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar can move to adopt the document.

The 17 zones are broken down below by state, the name of the zone and the potential resource:

Arizona
Brenda: 372 MW
Gillespie: 291 MW

California
Imperial East: 635 MW
Riverside East: 16,434 MW

Colorado
Antonito Southeast: 1,079 MW
De Tilla Gulch: 118 MW
Fourmile East: 320 MW
Los Mogotes East: 294 MW

Nevada
Amargosa Valley: 942 MW
Dry Lake: 635 MW
Dry Lake Valley North: 2,785 MW
Gold Point: 511 MW
Millers: 1,837 MW

New Mexico
Afton: 3,329 MW

Utah
Escalante Valley: 726 MW
Milford Flats South: 695 MW
Wah Wah Valley: 653 MW

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