A draft plan identifying prime areas for solar energy projects on public lands in the Southwest was released Thursday by the Interior Department in an effort to speed up development.
The draft identifies 24 so-called solar energy zones in California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona that have the highest potential for solar development with the fewest environmental impacts. The plan announced during a conference call in Washington, D.C., also proposes to open an additional 21 million acres of land to potential solar development.
Conservationists poring over the draft report's estimated 10,000 pages said they are pleased the federal government is finally outlining a program to more quickly approve good solar projects. The Department of Energy on Thursday also announced efforts to fund up to $50 million to test and demonstrate cutting-edge solar technologies.
Many environmentalists, like Alex Daue, renewable energy coordinator at The Wilderness Society, however, said they are concerned about the proposal to open additional acreage beyond the vetted zones.
"The opportunity here is to speed responsible development and limit impact," he said. "Why not focus on areas with the best chance of success and the least environmental impact?"