U.S. Selects 24 Solar Power Zones to Streamline Project Approvals

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The U.S. government gave preliminary approval for solar energy projects at 24 sites on federal land in six states, a step that may allow energy companies develop them sooner.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Energy Department announced the “solar energy zones” during a conference call today.
The decision would create an environmental-impact evaluation before developers apply for permission to build and may speed the application process, Salazar said.

Federal agencies evaluated 675,000 acres for potential solar development in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The agency had announced the locations in July. Environmental groups objected to some of the sites, saying they are too close to national parks or could endanger sensitive wildlife populations.

The Wilderness Society studied the 24 areas initially suggested by the BLM and this month and identified two that aren’t suitable for development, said Alex Daue, a spokesman for the society.

One is the 110,000-acre Iron Mountain zone in California, located between the Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert National Preserve.

“A couple of the zones are inappropriate for large-scale solar development,” Daue said in a telephone interview. “Iron Mountain should be taken off their map.”

The Wilderness Society plans to work with other environmental groups and the Interior Department to promote development at the solar zones it considers best suited for large-scale energy plants, Daue said. It will do so during a 90- day comment period that begins when the document is published in the federal register, he said.

“We support solar development on most of the zones and we want the BLM to ensure projects are built within those zones,” Daue said.