17 sites proposed for solar energy in West

Ken Salazar

Large-scale solar power plants on federal land in Colorado could be generating up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity by 2030, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday.

The power would come from plants primarily in Colorado’s San Luis Valley in the south-central part of the state, but that doesn’t mean other plants couldn’t be built elsewhere in the state, the former Colorado U.S. senator said in announcing the creation of 17 proposed solar-power zones in six Western states.

“When we arrived at the Department of the Interior in 2009, there were hundreds of applications pending from solar companies who wanted to build projects on public lands, but there was no method to move them forward,” Salazar said during a teleconference Thursday.

“In the past two years, Interior has approved 22 major renewable-energy projects on renewable lands, including wind, solar and geothermal.”

Salazar said 13 of those projects are to produce nearly 5,000 megawatts of power, enough to power 1.5 million homes for a year.

He said that’s comparable to 15 coal-fired power plants.

The department hopes to expand on that power generation by creating special solar-power zones — 285,000 acres of federal land in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California — that will have a kind of pre-approved environmental impact statement.

The idea is to help fast-track the permitting process by first identifying potential environmental impacts or socioeconomic concerns that would need to be mitigated, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said.

“The concept is that it is a clear, easier path for developers to proceed inside the zones, which have been essentially test-driven in identifying potential conflicts,” Hayes said.

“There will be more certainty in putting a project in these zones.”

At the same time, the department is designating what areas of federal lands are off-limits to such development.

While Bureau of Land Management lands in northern Mesa County and southern Garfield County are open for possible development, federal lands southwest of Grand Junction are not.

Currently, 79 projects are pending before the Interior Department, which together would generate about 33,000 megawatts of power. None of them is in Colorado.


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