US DOI Fast-Tracking Initiatives for Solar Energy on Federal Lands

Under initiatives announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), 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 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 evaluated for their environmental and resource suitability for large-scale solar energy production. The objective, according to Interior, 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.

Those areas selected would be available for projects with capacities of 10 megawatts (MW) or more. Companies that propose projects on that scale in areas already approved for this type of development would be eligible for priority processing.

Currently BLM said that it 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.

The BLM will begin site-specific environmental reviews for two projects in Nevada that would have a combined capacity of more than 400 MW. The first is the NextLight Silver State South array with a planned capacity of 267 megawatts and the second is the NextLight Silver State North, which wold have a capacity of 140 megawatts.

“I want to thank Secretary Salazar for his commitment to renewable energy, and for being here in Nevada today,” Reid said. “This is the Secretary’s second visit to Nevada to announce key renewable energy initiatives that will help make Nevada the blueprint for everything that’s right about the future of our nation’s energy policy. We’ve got sunny skies, strong winds, and land that when used properly, will allow us to lead the nation’s children into a cleaner, more efficient, and more profitable tomorrow.”

Secretary Salazar and Senator Reid also announced the opening of a new Interior renewable energy coordination office (RECO) in Nevada, the first of four, with the others located in Arizona, California, and Wyoming. The offices will help to expedite processing of the increased number of applications for renewable energy projects on U.S. lands.

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