The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to open up public land to renewable energy projects.
On Tuesday, the Department of the Interior and the Energy Department announced solar projects on public land in six southwestern states. It will also block other projects that could be potentially damaging to the environment, focusing instead on fast tracking solar projects in 17 zones and opening up millions more acres for future developments.
Over 285,000 acres of federal land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah have been identified by the Obama administration to develop solar energy projects that could generate electricity for area homes and businesses. These projects will be overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
Solar power generated on these public lands is expected to be about 23,700 megawatts annually and could support over 7 million American homes.
The 17 zones identified were partly chosen because of their solar potential and because projects could be developed without a negative impact on the environment.
Environmentalist groups, among them the National Audubon Society, initially opposed the administration’s solar initiative due to concerns about the environmental impact. After working closely with officials, only about 40 percent of the land initially slated for expedited solar development got the go ahead. Over 78 million acres have been disallowed for solar developments and ear-marked for preservation due to “natural and cultural” resources.
This seems to satisfy the environmentalists involved.
“The BLM solar plan demonstrates that we as Americans don’t have to choose between clean alternative energy and a healthy environment,” said Mike Daulton of the National Audubon Society.
While 19 million additional acres were approved for future solar projects, these regions won’t be eligible for expedited permits.
“This blueprint for landscape-level planning is about facilitating faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on America’s public lands,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters on Tuesday via conference call.