The Energy and Interior Departments is working to open up more than 21 million acres of government land to potential solar energy projects. (DuPont via Gannett)
The Energy and Interior Departments released draft guidance Dec. 16 aiming to open up more than 21 million acres of government land to potential solar energy projects.
The Bureau of Land Management identified areas in six states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah — as ideal places for solar energy facilities.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement that by identifying the best areas for such projects now, the government can reduce the number of conflicts and the amount of time for solar projects to be developed.
"This analysis will help renewable energy companies and federal agencies focus development on areas of public lands best suited for large-scale solar development," Salazar said.
As of February, BLM had received 127 applications for the right to use federal lands for solar projects. It has approved eight projects within the last three months in California and Nevada.
The land identified in the draft guidance is relatively flat and sunnier than average, and excludes areas such as national parks and hunting grounds.
BLM estimates only about 214,000 acres would end up hosting solar utility projects. It estimates such projects could generate more than 24,000 megawatts over the next 20 years, enough to power more than 2.1 million homes annually.
The draft guidance suggests ways to mitigate the environmental, tourism and recreational impacts such projects could have. It warns that there may be some "adverse socioeconomic impacts resulting from changes in recreation, property values and environmental amenities" but that there are positive impacts from a growing solar industry.
There will be a 90-day comment period on the draft.