Salazar announces plan to set up Solar Energy Zones on Colorado public lands

Secretary of the Interior and former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu Thursday announced a plan that proposes “Solar Energy Zones” on federal lands in six western states, including Colorado.

An environmental assessment called the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was compiled over the past two years as part of an Obama administration plan to identify areas on public lands that are appropriate for alternative energy development. Public comment on the draft plan is open for the next 90 days.

“This proposal lays out the next phase of President Obama’s strategy for rapid and responsible development of renewable energy on America’s public lands,” Salazar said in a release. “This analysis will help renewable energy companies and federal agencies focus development on areas of our public lands that are best suited for large-scale solar development. Our early, ‘Smart from the Start,’ planning will help us site solar projects in the right places, and reduce conflicts and delays at later stages of the development process.”

The BLM would establish Solar Energy Zones (SEZ’s) with the highest solar energy potential and fewest environmental impacts and open them up for a more efficient permitting process. There has been growing controversy over solar projects on public lands, including in California’s Mojave Desert.

The BLM manages about 120 million acres of public land in the six western states covered by the environmental analysis, but BLM lands that would be excluded from solar energy production include areas “currently off-limits to this type of energy development; those prohibited by law, regulation, Presidential proclamation, or executive order; lands with slopes of 5 percent or greater and/or sunlight levels below 6.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day; and areas with known resources, resource uses, or special designations identified in local land use plans that are incompatible with solar energy development.” All of which means only about 22 million acres would be available, and only 677,400 have designated as proposed SEZ’s.

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