|Interior releases ambitious solar power plan on public lands|
|Written by Wild Nevada|
|Tuesday, 24 July 2012 14:43|
The Department of the Interior Tuesday identified five areas of Nevada public lands as prime spots for solar energy development.
Nevada was one of six Southwestern states included in the Interior’s 3,000-page programmatic environmental impact statement , which identifies 285,000 acres of public lands in 17 areas where large-scale solar projects would enjoy an accelerated review process. This document will facilitate permitting of projects within public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Obama administration had established its intent to reduce our Nation’s dependency upon energy production from coal-fired power plants. The combustion of non-renewable coal expels carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which exacerbates climate change. Moreover, the move toward electrical power created by renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and biomass production would also lessen America’s dependency upon foreign petroleum by increasing the amount of electricity available to power industry, homes and vehicles.
The 17 zones have been carefully studied, and the Interior Department is hoping developers will be attracted to them in an effort to save money by utilizing the environmental analysis that’s already been completed. The Interior has also estimated mitigation costs for these areas, removing some of the uncertainty energy companies face when developing a project.
Nevada Wilderness Project staffers have been working for two years with federal officials to identify the best public lands for solar energy development. NWP Energy Program Coordinator Craig Mortimore praised the Interior’s latest plan, saying it will help ensure that future solar plants don’t threaten sensitive wildlife habitat or infringe on proposed or protected Wilderness and Conservation Areas within the state of Nevada.
The Solar Energy Zones – or SEZs – have few biological, cultural or historic conflicts, are located in vicinity to existing electrical transmission lines or designated corridors and, are in areas where sunshine is highly reliable, Mortimore said. The five SEZs in Nevada are mostly within the creosote and yucca desert of Southern Nevada.
“The areas in Nevada identified in this federal plan are really the best locations for large-scale solar projects, which can consume thousands of acres of desert land,” Mortimore said. “These are areas that are already disturbed, are close to existing transmission lines and should have little impact on sensitive species or wildlands.”
The 17 zones in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah can accommodate enough development to produce an estimated 32,000 megawatts of power. The five areas in Nevada – all located in central or southern Nevada – have the capacity to produce 6,500 megawatts, or enough to power an estimated 2 million homes for a year, the Interior Department said. They include:
The Interior Department identified an additional 19 million acres of public land in the six states as having potential for more solar projects that would be eligible to fast federal approvals. But 78 million of public land are being removed from consideration due to their archaeological or cultural qualities, endangered species, scarce water or long distance from transmission lines.
The PEIS does allow for the creation of additional zones in the event that compelling information justifies it. Solar power developers are not excluded from applying to build projects on public land outside of these SEZs. However, developments within these “variance” areas will have to undergo thorough environmental analysis on an individual basis, an expensive and time-consuming requirement that will be considerably shorter within the designated zones.
The SEZs offer reduced lease payments as incentives to locate within these sites.
Prior to the current Administration, there were zero solar projects permitted on existing public lands in America. The Department of Interior has authorized 17 utility-scale solar energy projects thus far, with a projected production of 5,700 megawatts at build-out. The Final PEIS estimates a total development of 23,700 megawatts from within the 17 SEZs and variance areas. That equates to the energy demands of seven million American households.