Yesterday, after three years, more than 80,000 public comments, and countless hours reviewing ponderous economic and environmental issues -- in other words, pretty speedy for government work -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar unveiled the Obama administration's slimmed-down plan touting "solar energy zones" spanning seventeen sites in six western states, including four in Colorado.
The long-awaited supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development (if you think the title's a mouthful, try reading the document) jettisoned several proposed desert sites that were too far from transmission lines, put endangered species at risk or seemed otherwise unpromising for development. Nearly half the public lands designated in the plan as ripe for utility-scale solar development -- the "sweet spots," as Salazar called them in a conference call with reporters -- are located in California. Four of the sites are in Colorado's sunny San Luis Valley.
The announcement is part of an overall push by Interior under Salazar to encourage rapid solar development on federal lands, with a supposed minimum of red tape. But the public input process has been tortuously slow, and it's not clear at this point how many of the zones will actually draw private investment in the near future. Although the administration has greenlighted dozens of renewable energy projects in recent months, the solar industry hasn't rushed to embrace the new zones without conducting their own siting studies. Even so, officials say they have nearly eighty applications pending for solar development projects on public lands.
Check out this map of the designated sites.
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