3:20pm

Tue July 24, 2012
Business

Solar Energy Zones Streamline Green Development In Colorado

The Obama administration has announced the approval of 17 large solar energy projects on public land in 6 western states, including 4 sites in Colorado. 

When fully developed, the combined projects will produce over 5,700 megawatts of energy – enough to power around 1.7 million homes each year.

According to Bureau of Land Management Spokesperson David Quick, no projects are currently in the works in Colorado – but Tuesday’s announcement means things are streamlined for developers wanting to build in so called ‘Solar Energy Zones.’

'A Huge Milestone In Our Solar Energy Effort'

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the creation of the zones a huge milestone for the country’s solar energy policy and a key part of the administration's 'all of the above' energy plan.

“Today’s announcement serves as a roadmap for solar energy for decades to come, and will help create an enduring and sustainable energy future for the United States of America.”

Each of the vast tracks of land have access to abundant sunlight, are close to existing or planned transmission lines, and are away from sensitive cultural and environmental areas. The 4 zones in south central Colorado total over 16,308 acres in an area that’s already home to multiple solar energy projects including the massive Alamosa Solar Generating Project  near Alamosa, and the Greater Sandhill Solar Farm in Mosca.

Time lapse of the Greater Sandhill Solar Farm:

The Associated Press reports the announcement means the Department of the Interior will begin a 30-day protest period, after which Salazar could adopt the plan.

Each zone was studied extensively for over two years and involved government regulators, environmental groups and public utilities.

Officials believe the plan provides more clarity on how projects can proceed, and gives potential developers certainty that they will be working in areas the government considers suited for solar power. 

Zones cover 285,000 acres across 6 states

The zones cover a total of 285,000 acres with five sites in Nevada, three in Utah, two each in California and Arizona, and one in New Mexico. 

Helen O'Shea of the Natural Resources Defense Council says this is a big milestone for responsible solar development.

"Having a roadmap for development and conservation and striking the right balance between the two is going  t0 be critical for protecting our western landscapes as we build our clean energy energy economy."

There are at least 70 application for developments pending with the Department of the Interior that are going to be grandfathered into the plan.