Feds Scale Back Solar Suitable Acreage

By Published On: November 4, 2011

In one fell swoop, the federal government slashed the amount of public lands considered appropriate for large solar developments. The Department of the Interior cut the available acreage for large-scale solar projects in California and the West from 677,000 to 285,000 acres. “Tapping the vast potential of solar resources in the Western states will go a long way to diversifying the country’s energy portfolio and re-establishing our position as a clean energy leader in a global market worth trillions of dollars in the long term,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated Oct. 27. The 58 percent cut in acreage deemed appropriate for solar projects came in a revised environmental impact statement by Interior, which manages public land in the West. Federal land in the Golden State removed from the list of potential solar sites includes Iron Mountain and Pisgah. Both are in the Mojave Desert. The Iron Mountain area covers 106, 500 acres. Pisgah encompasses 24,000 acres. Interior also scaled back solar zones in Eastern Riverside County. The amount of public lands in the state deemed solar-friendly under the latest revision is 153,000 acres. Under the federal policy, solar developments largely would be restricted to zones identified in the revised Programmatic Solar Environmental Impact Statement. Solar developments outside those areas may be considered if certain criteria are met. The draft analysis also includes incentives for solar developers seeking to build massive developments in the preferred zones, including faster and more flexible permitting, according to Interior. “Between the proposed solar energy zones, the flexible variance process, the additional state-based planning efforts, and the commitment to process pending applications, Interior is taking an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to building a strong solar energy economy now and into the future,” according to David Hayes, Interior deputy secretary. The first cut of federal solar zones was released in December 2010. Comments flooded into Interior, with more than 80,000 received. Public comment on the revised solar project impact assessment is set for Dec. 7 and 8 in El Centro and Palm Desert respectively.

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