More than a year ago the United States began seeking out and designating lands as appropriate for solar energy development. After studying environmental impacts and nearness to transmission lines, the U.S. established twenty-four sites with potential for solar development. After further review, that number was reduced to seventeen.
Five of the pre-screened sites are in Nevada, another four in Colorado, three in Utah, two in both California and Arizona and one in New Mexico. The original twenty-four sites amounted to 677,000 acres and the dwindled list amounts to 285,000 acres. 153,627 acres are located in the two areas designated in California. The second greatest total is in Nevada, with five areas amounting to 60,395 acres. The government also indicated that they may allocate another twenty million acres for solar projects in the future.
The pre-approved lands will speed the process for a utility or company seeking to build solar farms on these lands due to limited governmental approvals required. However, environmental reviews will still be required per project. Companies are also not required to seek out these lands, any lands suitable for solar will still be considered by the government but the process will not be streamlined as with these pre-approved lots.
The designated solar energy sites were said to be officially approved federally this past Friday. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the approval, indicating that it would speed solar development generation. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu indicated other benefits of the pre-approved land: “There is a global race to develop renewable energy technologies- and this effort will help us win this race by expanding solar energy production while reducing permitting costs.”
Areas preferred for solar energy development are often found in the desert regions, including the American Southwest. However, previous solar developments have been discarded due to environmental issues, especially with endangered species found in only small areas that overlap potential sites. But the pre-approved lands, which have an environmental stamp of approval, are seen as positive by environmental groups as well.
Michael Powelson from Nature Conservancy stated: “We can develop the clean, renewable energy that is essential to our future while protecting our iconic desert landscape by directing development to areas that are more degraded.”