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U.S. releases ‘roadmap’ for solar development in public lands

The United States Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior will release a "roadmap" for solar energy development in public lands, which will push for the creation of utility-scale solar energy on public lands throughout the west.

Called the "Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement," the guiding document will cover six southwestern states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

"This new roadmap [is] identifying public lands that are best suited for solar energy projects, improving the permitting process, and creating incentives to deliver more renewable energy to American homes and businesses," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Locations will be focused on 17 Bureau of Land Management lands with feasible solar resources, energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources. These sites will then become Solar Energy Zones.

A total of 285,000 acres of public lands will be identified, plus the potential to add more zones through ongoing and future regional planning processes. "Variance" areas of an estimated 19 million acres (76,890 square kilometers) lying outside the Solar Energy Zones are also outlined in the blueprint.

Since 2009, a total of 17 utility-scale solar energy projects have been approved by Interior, and will be producing close to 5,900 megawatts once completed – enough to power 1.8 million American homes.

The Solar Energy Industries Association praised the move, saying permits would be granted faster for more solar plants.

"Several impressive solar projects are under construction in the Southwest right now," said SEIA president and chief executive Rhone Resch.

He adds that the Bureau of Land Management must ensure pending projects do not get "bogged down in more bureaucratic process."

Meanwhile the Bureau is working on ongoing transmission planning efforts, including through the Transmission Expansion Planning Policy Committee and the Western Electricity Coordination Council's transmission study, to support system-level analyses of transmission needs. – EcoSeed Staff

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