Six Western states could soon see big, new solar-power projects on public land, thanks to a plan finalized Friday by the Interior Department. The Hill reports:
The Interior Department set aside about 285,000 acres for commercial-scale solar in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The federal government will offer incentives for development, help facilitate access to existing or planned electric infrastructure and ease the permitting process in the 17 zones. …
If fully utilized, Interior predicts the zones could produce 23,700 megawatts of solar energy, enough to power 7 million homes.
Interior tried to be sensitive to conservation issues in developing the plan, as AP explains:
[T]he chosen sites have fewer of the environmental concerns — such as endangered desert tortoise habitat — that have plagued other projects.
Environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy who had been critical of the federal government’s previous approach to solar development in the desert applauded the new plan.
The Natural Resources Defense Council also praised the new plan as a big improvement over the previous, more haphazard system, which left some “sensitive lands” open to development.
Given that the [Bureau of Land Management] originally proposed solar development on 80 million acres, we are encouraged by today’s decision, which reserves development mainly to 280,000 acres — and it marks a huge improvement over the traditional BLM way of managing energy resources that allowed energy companies to dictate the terms before key management protocols were even established.
This map shows the solar zones in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah: