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New Measures to Aid
Solar on Public Lands

by Kate Galbraith
The New York Times, June 29, 2009

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced measures on Monday to hasten the development of solar energy on Western public lands.

Mr. Salazar, appearing in Las Vegas with Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said that 670,000 acres of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (an agency within the Department of the Interior) would be studied to determine whether they could support large solar power arrays.

Twenty-four tracts of land in six states -- Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah -- are under review. Maps of the land will be published shortly in the Federal Register.

The solar study zones, Mr. Salazar said, are part of the Obama administration's push to do "everything we can to put the bulls-eye on the development of solar energy on our public lands."

Mr. Salazar said the assessments would be done in a "thoughtful way," to ensure not only that the sites can supply plenty of solar power, but also that they "don't contravene the other important public values we're trying to protect, including other environmental values."

Solar power has run into opposition in places like California's Mojave Desert, where environmentalists and some of their political allies fear that large solar plants could hurt fragile desert ecosystems.

By the end of 2010, Mr. Salazar said, he expected there to be 13 commercial-scale solar projects under construction on public lands.

"There are millions of acres set aside for oil and gas. It's about time we did something for renewable energy," said Mr. Reid.

Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, praised the initiatives.

"It's about time to make the permitting process more efficient and provide greater guidance to solar developers," he said in a statement. Mr. Resch also noted that no permits have yet been issued for solar projects, despite the approval of more than 7,000 permits for oil and gas drilling on Bureau of Land Management land in 2007.

Mr. Salazar also announced the opening of a new "Interior renewable energy coordination office" in Nevada, to process renewable energy applications from developers to build on public lands more quickly. Three other offices of this type will be opened later in Arizona, California and Wyoming. Already, according to the Department of Interior, there are 158 "active" solar applications on file with the bureau.

The bureau will also begin reviewing the environmental implications of two proposed solar arrays in Nevada, Mr. Salazar said.

Kate Galbraith
New Measures to Aid Solar on Public Lands
The New York Times, June 29, 2009

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