On the heels of a major announcement from the Obama administration on Tuesday, Utah is disclosing details about the 18,658 acres identified by the Department of the Interior and the Energy Department as prime locations for expedited solar energy projects in the state.
The acres are in the Escalante Valley in Iron County and in the Milford Flats South and Wah Wah Valley in Beaver County. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that these types of areas were chosen for solar development due to ”their proximity to electrical transmission lines, the yield of solar energy in the area and the low conflict with biological, cultural and historical resources.”
These areas are just a fraction of the nearly 300,000 acres the Obama administration approved for quick solar installations in 6 southwestern states. The goal is to get more renewable energy sources generating power in the United States by freeing up underutilized public lands. Another 19 million acres may potentially be used for solar development, but will be required to undergo a waiver process and a special variance from the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for managing the project.
On the contrary, nearly 78 million acres will not be open to development in order to preserve cultural or environmental resources. Some of these areas include land around national parks in Utah and other states.
Much of the land initially tagged as part of the expedited solar process was later excluded because environmentalists, including the National Audubon Society, objected to disturbing areas they believed warranted cultural or environmental preservation. Native American tribes in the southwest have also objected to solar installations on public lands that are sacred to their people.
Taking these objections into serious account, the Department of the Interior and the Energy Department responded by working with these groups to identify 285,000 acres of federal land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Categorized into 17 zones, these areas have been evaluated and deemed safe for development.
Solar power generated on these public lands is expected to be about 23,700 megawatts annually and could support over 7 million American homes.