US will develop 285,000 acres in 6 Western states for solar energy projects

285,000 acres of public land in six Western states will be set aside to develop utility-scale solar energy facilities, announced the Obama Administration last week when it issued The Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar released the official statement last Friday. The states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah will host 17 “Solar Energy Zones.” These zones will receive strong economic incentives to encourage solar developers to develop these areas.

The Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement also identified an additional 19 million acres of Variance Zones. Solar developers will be allowed to work here, but they will receive fewer incentives compared to Solar Energy Zones. Finally, it detailed 79 million acres as Exclusion Zones that forbids any kind of energy development project.

Notably, the solar zones in California have twice the acreage of their contemporaries in the other states. The majority of its 750,000 acres worth of Variance Zones can be found in the Mojave Desert.

The Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement also aimed to protect key natural and cultural resources by implementing a framework for regional mitigation plans. It considered feedback from conservationists and other interested stakeholders in order to identify the best practices to develop and deliver environmentally-responsible solar energy.

The plan is opposed by several conservation groups who are concerned that the planned industrial-scale solar energy projects will devastate the delicate ecosystem of the Mojave Desert, which houses scores of endangered flora and fauna.

We aren’t getting that public land back once it’s industrialized,” contended Janine Blaelock, a member of the conservation group Solar Done Right, about the potential ramifications of building a large-scale solar power plant in the Mojave Desert. “Everything that lives there and everything we enjoy about it will be gone.”

The Obama administration is hard at work expanding domestic energy production. In just three years, the Department of Interior has approved 33 renewable energy projects that use solar energy, wind energy, and geothermal energy. When the projects are completed and hooked up to the main grid by transmission corridors, they will provide more than 3.5 million homes with clean, renewable electrical power.

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