Feds Freeze Western Solar Power for Environmental Analysis

WASHINGTON, DC, June 27, 2008 (ENS) – The federal government is calling a halt to new applications for solar power developments on public land in six western states while the 125 applications now in the pipeline are evaluated.

The evaluation of both current and future applications will depend on the results of an environmental impact statement that will be the joint responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, and the Department of Energy, DOE, the agencies announced earlier this month.

“Renewable energy resources, such as solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal, will continue to play a larger role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs,” said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, who has jurisdiction over the BLM.

The states under analysis are – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

The Alamosa Photovoltaic Plant generates
about 8.2 megawatts of power from
Colorado’s San Luis Valley. (Photo
courtesy NREL)

“Preparing a programmatic EIS [environmental impact statement] is a necessary first step in evaluating to what extent public lands with high solar energy potential may be able to help meet the Nation’s need for renewable energy,” said BLM Director Jim Caswell.

“Scoping is a crucial part of ensuring that any solar energy program would take into account environmental and socio-economic impacts while allowing the nation to realize tremendous benefits in terms of energy availability, reliability and security,” he said.

During work on the environmental impact statement, the BLM will focus attention on the 125 applications already received for rights-of-way for solar energy development.

The 125 existing applications are for land covering almost one million acres and with the potential to generate 70 billion watts of electricity, or enough to power 20 million average American homes.

The environmental impact statement will establish a process for accepting future applications, possibly through a competitive process, which is likely to attract companies with the experience and resources necessary to quickly deploy solar energy projects.

In developing the EIS, the agencies will evaluate alternative management strategies for mitigating potential impacts and facilitating solar energy development.

The measures adopted as a result are intended to provide consistency and certainty for solar energy development and will help expedite environmental analysis for site-specific projects in the future, the agencies said in a joint statement.

“We must use our own domestic energy resources as part of a balanced, rational and realistic national policy to secure a reliable supply of affordable energy for America’s families and businesses,” said Secretary Kempthorne. “Expanded solar energy development is part of the solution, placing more control over energy supply in the hands of America.”

The BLM will accept written comments related to the initial stage of the evaluation that are postmarked or delivered by July 15, 2008, and electronic comments that are received by the same date.

Public scoping meetings have been held across the affected states, and three meetings are taking place in July. All meetings begin at 6 pm.

* Tuesday, July 8, 2008, Tucson Arizona: Pima Community College, Downtown Campus, 1255 North Stone Ave. For more information, call: 520-206-7171

* Wednesday, July 9, 2008, San Luis Obispo California: Embassy Suites San Luis Obispo, 333 Madonna Road. For more information, call: 805-549-0800

* Thursday, July 10, 2008, El Centro California: County Administration Center, 940 West Main Street, Suite 211. For more information, call: 760-482-4220

More information on the EIS project is online at: solareis.anl.gov.

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