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Solar farm land rush: Interior targets 17 sites in the Southwest

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By Jesse Berst

 

The Interior Department has identified 17 sites in six Southwestern states as prime locations for large-scale solar project, according to the Los Angeles Times. It is offering incentives for solar developers to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of federal land in the western U.S and opening an additional 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert for new power plants. The incentives include minimal environmental reviews and expedited permitting. The government is considering additional financial incentives, such as lower land lease payments or reduced-cost bonds.

 

"It's hard to overstate what a significant milestone this is for our administration," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on a conference call. The plan places 445 square miles of public land in play for utility-scale solar -- 17 solar energy zones in six Western states. The zones were chosen to avoid environmental and cultural conflicts and to have reasonable access to transmission.

 

According to the Times, critics contend the policies are too late, coming after years of free-for-all leasing that encouraged speculation. Since leasing began, the Bureau of Land Management has been working to process more than 300 solar applications. So far, however, the initiative has yielded only 50MW of solar power.

 

We think the program will continue to be dogged by transmission constraints. Just because a solar site is within reasonable distance from a transmission line does not mean the line has sufficient capacity.

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