US Department of the Interior approves major renewable energy projects

Source: US Department of the Interior

Advancing the Obama Administration’s commitment to rapid and responsible development of large-scale renewable energy, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the approval of four new projects on public lands, the launch of environmental reviews on three others, and the next step in a comprehensive environmental analysis to identify ‘solar energy zones’ on public lands in six western states.

“The focus we have placed on smart planning and coordinated reviews of permit applications is paying dividends with new large-scale renewable energy projects that are springing to life, powering communities, and creating jobs across the West,” said Secretary Salazar. “As we encourage innovation and the deployment of technologies through the projects approved today, we are also moving forward with an enduring solar energy program that will further spur private sector job-creation and solar power production.”

The renewable energy projects that Salazar announced - two utility-scale solar developments in California, a wind energy project in Oregon, and a transmission line in Southern California - together will create more than 1,300 construction jobs, provide a combined 550 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 185,000 to 380,000 homes, and generate several million dollars annually in local government tax revenues. The projects are part of Interior’s “Smart from the Start” approach to processing existing applications for renewable energy development on public lands in a coordinated, focused manner with full environmental analysis and public review.

In addition, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has issued Notices of Intent to begin environmental analyses of two wind projects and a solar energy project located in California with a combined generating capacity of more than 370 megawatts.

Salazar also announced that the Interior Department, in cooperation with the Department of Energy, will prepare a targeted supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development (Solar PEIS). First released for public review in December, 2010, the Solar PEIS will establish a framework for developing large utility-scale solar energy projects on public lands, based on landscape-level planning and the best available science, designed to promote the development in “solar energy zones” in six western states.

The supplement will address key issues identified through public comments and provide a number of enhancements, including developing well defined criteria for identifying solar energy zones; incentives for encouraging developers to site their projects in the zones and a variance process for those who wish to develop facilities outside such zones; additional surveys of biological and cultural resources in the zones; and a more detailed analysis of transmission.

"Investing in large-scale solar and wind energy projects helps create jobs today, builds the clean energy economy of tomorrow and increases our global competitiveness around the world,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Together these projects will power hundreds of thousands of homes with clean, renewable power while helping to create jobs in California and Oregon."

No new solar energy zones will be analyzed in the supplemental document, but additional zones will be analyzed through other ongoing BLM state and regional planning efforts, such as the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, the West Chocolate Mountains planning effort in California, and the Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project.

Through the Solar PEIS supplement, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would review the establishment of Solar Energy Zones within the lands available for solar development right of way applications. These are areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah that have been identified as most appropriate for development, containing the highest solar energy potential and fewest environmental and resource conflicts. The Solar Energy Zones would provide directed, landscape-scale planning for future solar projects and allow for a more efficient permitting and siting process.

The BLM will prepare the supplement for expected release in the fall of 2011 when it will be available for further public comment.

“Public involvement is a vital component in every step of the BLM’s solar energy program and this supplement and additional time for comment will serve to increase the utility of the Solar PEIS,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “The lessons learned from what we have done so far will help make all solar development resulting from this process ‘Smart from the Start.’”

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