Colorado Solar Zones First Up For Auction

For years the U.S. has leased public lands in the West for the development of oil and gas resources. Now solar is getting a turn.

The Obama administration announced that parcels in two solar energy zones in Colorado will go up for auction on Oct. 24. It’ll be a first for the zones, instituted last year by the Department of the Interior to smooth renewable energy development by demarcating swaths of land where environmental, logistical and cultural conflicts were less likely.

solar energy zones

Example of the south-central Colorado terrain (image via Wikimedia Commons)

“This process will facilitate the Department’s priority approach to making appropriate public lands available for renewable energy development in the Solar Energy Zones  and ensure a fair return to taxpayers for the commercial use of these lands,” Helen Hankins, the BLM’s Colorado director, said in a statement.

The BLM said the Colorado zones that will go up for bid offer about 3,700 acres of developable land – 1,064 at De Tilla Gulch, 120 miles as the crow flies southwest of Denver in Saguache County; and separate 1,281-acre and 1,360-acre parcels at Los Mogotes East  in Conejos County, south of Alamosa down near the New Mexico state line:

The Colorado SEZ auction will take place at 10 a.m. on October 24 at the BLM Colorado State Office, 2850 Youngfield Street, Lakewood, Colorado 80215. The opening bid will be determined by the minimum bonus bid or the highest sealed bid, whichever is higher. The minimum bonus bid for each parcel, which is valued at 5 percent of the rent value of the land for 1 year ($63 per acre for Saguache and Conejos counties) under the BLM’s interim solar rental policy, is based on the value of the interests acquired by the preferred applicant to file an application in a Solar Energy Zone. Minimum bonus bids for the three parcels are: De Tilla Gulch – $3,352; Los Mogotes East (north parcel) – $4,035; and Los Mogotes East (south parcel) – $4,284.

There are solar energy zones in six Western states, but that’s a little bit misleading: Of the 285,000 acres set aside in 17 zones last October, more than half the acreage – 147,910 – was in California’s Riverside County, which borders Orange County on its western flank and then stretches all the way east across the Mojave and Colorado deserts to Arizona. Two new zones have since been added, one last January in Arizona and then just last week another in California: the 64,058-acre West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area in the Imperial Valley, which the administration believes could be developed to the tune of more than 3.3 gigawatts of solar power and 150 megawatts of the geothermal power.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.