U.S. Tightens Zones For Big Solar

Big solar on public lands in the U.S. West has gotten a big bump in the two-plus years of the Obama administration, and now the federal government is narrowing the focus for siting new projects, hoping the move will “make for faster, better permitting of large-scale solar projects.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) said today that after receiving 80,000 comments on a Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) unveiled last December, it was trimming the number of target areas – called “solar energy zones” –  in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah from 24 to 17, and reducing the number of acres in play from 677,000 to 285,000. The DOI said its public-lands agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), “refined or removed zones that had development constraints or serious resource conflicts.”

Department of Interior solar policy

image via California Energy Commission

The modified draft “also establishes a variance process, going forward, that will allow development of well-sited projects outside of solar energy zones on an additional 20 million acres of public land,” but Reuters reported that in a conference call with reporters, Salazar said projects proposed for those outlying areas would face a less streamlined process.

Salazar said the federal government was particularly interested in pointing development toward a 214,000-acre area within the target zones “where the sweet spots are.”

Immediate industry reaction to the new draft appeared to be lukewarm. In a statement, Solar Energy Industry Association chief Rhone Resch said: “While we are still reviewing all of the details in this proposal, there are some significant areas of concern regarding the viability of a solar-energy zone approach. Siting flexibility and access to transmission are key to the financing and development of utility-scale solar power plants. Both aspects must be reflected in the final PEIS.”

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.