Saturday, July 25, 2009

Full Speed Ahead for Large Solar Projects in Colorado and the West

Article Source: Heartland Energy Colorado

LAS VEGAS – Under initiatives announced Monday 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.

The Interior Department is setting aside 676,048 acres for solar study zones, one of several steps it is taking to fast-track the development of solar energy on public lands. According to Interior Secretary Salazar, the federal actions will enable 13 commercial-scale solar plants to be under construction by the end of next year, creating 50,000 jobs.

“President Obama’s comprehensive energy strategy calls for rapid development of renewable energy, especially on America’s public lands,” said Secretary Salazar. “This environmentally-sensitive plan will identify appropriate Interior-managed lands that have excellent solar energy potential and limited conflicts with wildlife, other natural resources or land users. The two dozen areas we are evaluating could generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity. 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.”

“It’s about time to make the permitting process more efficient and provide greater guidance to solar developers,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement.
Under one initiative, 24 tracts of Bureau of Land Management-administered land located in six western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, 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.

Nearly 21,000 acres in the San Luis Valley of Colorado are being set aside for solar projects that could generate up to 4,100 megawatts of electricity — equal to 10 medium-size coal-fired power plants, according to federal estimates.

The BLM and the Energy Department filed a notice now available on the Federal Register, announcing the availability of maps that show the areas to be analyzed in their joint programmatic environmental impact statement and soliciting public comment. The federal agency also it will continue processing existing renewable energy applications within and outside the zones while the broader environmental analyses take place. The agency will continue accepting applications, but any filed after June 30th will be subject to applicable decisions made from the environmental analysis.

Those areas selected would be available for projects capable of producing 10 or more megawatts 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.

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 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power 29 million homes, the equivalent of 29 percent of the nation’s household electrical consumption.

As part of this initiative, the BLM will segregate the study areas from new mining claims and other actions initiated by third parties under public land laws. This temporary 2-year segregation will give BLM time to complete its environmental review and make a determination on solar energy zones. It will not affect rights established prior to the temporary segregation. The public will have the opportunity to comment on these proposed solar energy study areas during the environmental reviews before any final decisions are made. The evaluation is expected to be completed in late 2010.

An ongoing federally-funded environmental evaluation of potential solar energy development on public lands in 6 Western States, known as the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or PEIS, will be expanded to include an in-depth analysis of the potential impacts of utility-scale solar energy development on public lands in the 24 Solar Energy Study Areas. This enhancement will be supported by additional federal funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This expanded evaluation, a collaborative effort with the Department of Energy, will allow the Bureau of Land Management to take a close look at each study area to determine where it makes sense to develop large-scale solar projects in an environmentally responsible way. Colorado companies proposing solar energy projects in designated areas would be able to “tier” to this study, using it as part of their environmental impact studies for site-specific projects, which are required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Reported by Ann Rascalli (Additional information on the BLM’s renewable energy program is available at www.blm.gov)

Heartland Energy Colorado | Home

No comments:

Post a Comment