“Smart from the Start” — Government Establishes Arizona Solar Energy Zones

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Departing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on January 18 announced the designation of 192,100 acres of public land in Arizona “as potentially suitable for utility-scale solar and wind energy development.” Publication of Interior’s Record of Decision (ROD) also establishes the Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone, “the third solar zone on public lands in Arizona and the 18th nationwide.”

Establishing the Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone follows on as part of the Obama Administration’s federal blueprint for environmentally sensitive development of large-scale solar power projects spanning six Western states. The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was officially launched with a press conference in Las Vegas last October.

The Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Department of Energy determined there’s a whopping 31,000 MW of solar energy potential across the 17 areas spanning the six western states.

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The Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project

Dubbed the Restoration Design Energy Project (RDEP), the ROD caps “a three-year, statewide environmental analysis of disturbed land and other areas with few known resource conflicts that could accommodate commercial renewable energy projects” the Interior Department explains in a press release.

“This project is a key milestone in our work to spur smart development of solar and wind energy on public lands across the West,” Secretary Salazar said. “Arizona has huge potential when it comes to building a clean energy economy, and this landscape-level plan lays a solid foundation for making sure that it happens in the right way and in the right places.”

Secretary Salazar emphasized the comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative nature of the federal Arizona ROD and Solar Energy Zone initiative.

“As we advance the President’s energy strategy, we continue to work closely with states, local communities, tribes, industry, conservation and other groups to reduce potential resource conflicts and expedite appropriate projects that will generate jobs and investment in rural communities.”

Environmentally Sensitive Renewable Energy Development

The BLM administers 12.2 million acres of public land in Arizona. Those designated suitable for renewable energy project development include sites such as agricultural lands that have been disturbed, as well as those deemed of “low resource sensitivity and few environmental conflicts.”

Those BLM lands in Arizona that contain “sensitive resources” that require protection — such as those home to endangered or threatened wildlife and cultural and historical importance — were excluded from consideration.

In addition, the Department of the Interior explains that the ROD sets project standards designed to avoid impacts on watersheds, ground water supplies, and water quality. It also sets an environmental protection baseline for proposed renewable energy projects.

“This initiative exemplifies our ‘Smart-from-the-Start’ review process, which puts appropriate pieces in place for responsibly developing renewable energy projects on public lands,” acting BLM Director Mike Pool commented. “The Arizona project can really serve as a model for future statewide analyses for responsible energy development in the West.”

Yuma County’s Agua Caliente Solar Energy Development Zone

Located in Yuma County near Dateland in the southwestern corner of Arizona, the Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone spans 2,550 acres of public land. BLM estimates that more than 20 MW of clean, renewable electricity could be generated across the area via utility-scale solar power projects.

The Obama Administration has approved proposals for 34 renewable energy projects on public lands since 2009, including solar, wind, and geothermal projects with a combined capacity to generate some 10,400 MW of clean, renewable power.

“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” Secretary Salazar stated during the launch of the federal Solar PEIS in Las Vegas last October.

“This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs.”

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