This week, the Obama Administration announced a plan that would allow access to public land in six US south-western states to speed up solar energy development, while still protecting environmentally sensitive land.
The plan, according to the Department of Interior (DOI) news release, would cover 285,000 acres of public land across the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The US government would like to advance large solar power plants in the hopes of increasing cleaner electrons to homeowners and businesses through the electrical grid.
“Developing America’s solar energy resources is an important part of President Obama’s commitment to expanding American-made energy, increasing energy security, and creating jobs,” said Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary, in a statement.
Notably, there were 0 (zero) solar projects permitted on public lands when President Obama took office. However, since 2009, the DOI has approved 17 utility-scale solar energy projects. When completed, these solar projects will have nearly 5,900 megawatts of capacity, “enough to power approximately 1.8 million American homes.”
Fast-Tracked Solar Projects Will Lead the Way
“This new roadmap builds on that commitment by 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,” Chu said.
Large-scale solar projects in these specialized economic-type zones are believed to have the best chance of succeeding, according to the DOI and DOE.
Around 19 million acres of land in which other solar projects would be built, yet would not get fast-tracked permits, were also identified by the US Administration during the announcement on Tuesday. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will oversee the projects.
Compromises Made to Protect Natural & Cultural Resources
Environmentalists did not like the plan originally, fearing that it would harm pristine land. However, US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pointed out that officials worked very hard in order to address the concerns of environmentalists. The final plan included approximately 40% of land that officials originally considered for rapid solar energy development.
“This blueprint for landscape-level planning is about facilitating faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on America’s public lands,” he also said in a statement.
The final deal was pleasing to environmentalists, as National Audubon Society’s Mike Daulton pointed out in a statement:
“The BLM solar plan demonstrates that we as Americans don’t have to choose between clean alternative energy and a healthy environment.”
“Interior’s final solar program culminates two years of a lot of hard work and commitment by many diverse groups,” said Helen O’Shea, director of NRDC’s Western Renewable Energy Project. “I’m hopeful that the plan will establish a roadmap that provides a balanced approach to addressing the climate change challenge and protecting wildlife and critical lands while moving our nation closer to meeting our clean energy goals.”
The US Government expects about 23,000 megawatts of solar power developed from the permitted areas, powering around 7 million homes. Meanwhile, the plan blocks development on 78 million acres of federal land to protect “natural and cultural” resources.
The final plan restricts 78 million acres of federal land to protect “natural & cultural” resources from development.
Sources: US Department of the Interior