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Ken Salazar pushes renewable energy "on steroids"

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced federal approval of four large renewable energy projects in the West today, touting the new jobs and clean power that those projects and others in the pipeline will bring -- and described his department's approach to renewables as so aggressive that it's "on steroids.

"These are real projects," he enthused. "They create real jobs."

In a teleconference with journalists, Salazar touted development of renewable energy on public lands as "one of the highest priorities at Interior for the last two-and-a-half years." The Obama administration has already greenlighted dozens of renewable projects, including nine solar facilities in Nevada and California. The four latest projects, in Oregon and California, include two solar installations, one wind farm and a transmission line. Collectively, they are expected to generate 1300 construction jobs and provide 550 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power up to 380,000 homes.

Three of the four projects are actually located on private lands; they require Interior approval because their transmission lines cross federal land. At the same time, Salazar acknowledged that the implementation of a major environmental assessment of public-land solar developments in six states (including Colorado) was being delayed as his team takes additional time to review more than 80,000 comments on the proposal.

"We want to get this right," he said. "We want to be smart from the start."

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The Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development, or Solar PEIS, seeks to designate "solar energy zones" in which projects could be fast-tracked for development -- "cutting red tape without cutting corners," as the Secretary put it. But first the agency wants to release a supplement to the vast study (currently weighing in at 11,000 pages) in order to further refine its analysis of environmental and efficiency issues raised by the prospect of building huge solar collection fields on Bureau of Land Management lands across the West.

For more on how those issues are playing out in the heartland -- including concerns about environmental damage, hooking up to the grid, the substantial energy loss in transmission from rural generators to urban consumers -- check out how locals have reacted to Salazar's plan to turn the San Luis Valley into one of those energy zones. A transcript of comments from a public meeting held in Alamosa last spring can be found here.

More from our Politics archive: "Ken Salazar's salary at center of David Vitter ethics complaint, CREW tells Keith Olbermann."

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