Interior designates public lands for solar development

285,000 acres in 6 western states
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To spur solar energy development on public lands, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed off on a plan Oct. 12 that establishes 285,000 acres of solar energy zones.

The zones, 17 in all, are locations well suited for utility-scale solar energy production in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The plan defines utility-scale development as any project that can produce 20 megawatts or more and deliver it to the electric grid.

The program also keeps the door open to solar projects outside the zones on a case-by-case basis in 19 million acres of what the Interior Department calls "variance" areas. But developers will have to adhere to a separate process to apply for projects there, and DOI says it will prioritize projects in the designated zones.

Interior says it will also be able to process permits more quickly and easily in the designated zones. It chose them based on the availability of solar resources, access to existing or planned electric transmission, and low conflict with natural and cultural resources.

Projects in the new zones could produce up to 23,700 megawatts of solar energy, which the DOI says could power about 7 million homes.

The program does not authorize individual solar projects, and site-specific environmental reviews will still have to take place. It also excludes nearly 79 million acres from solar development because of their natural and cultural resources.

Decisions on projects that will produce less than 20 megawatts will continue to be made via existing land use requirements.

For more:
- go to the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement
- download the Record of Decision that approved the plan (.pdf)
- go to the DOI release

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