Friday, August 17, 2012

Solar Energy Plan Aims To Speed Permitting Process

The Obama administration has released a sweeping environmental plan for solar energy projects in California's Mojave Desert and five other western states that aims to expedite the permitting process while protecting sensitive lands and endangered wildlife.

The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, released last week, marks what the Interior and Energy departments are calling a "historic milestone" in the nation's effort to accelerate renewable energy projects. It is the first-ever roadmap for large-scale solar energy development on areas governed by the Bureau of Land Management in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

"Renewable energy development on federal lands is essential to reaching our national clean energy goals," said Arthur L. Haubenstock, vice president of regulatory affairs at San Francisco-based Brightsource Energy Inc., which is building the 392-megawatt Ivanpah solar complex near the California-Nevada border, about 50 miles northwest of Needles.

The plan establishes 17 solar energy zones on 285,000 acres across the six states, including more than 23,000 acres at and around Pisgah Crater near Barstow, with access to existing or planned transmission sources.

Each zone was selected due to their minimal impact on the environment, which translates into a streamlining of the permitting process in order to expedite the projects, a spokesman said.

"We're hopeful that this detailed environmental analysis will dramatically speed the permitting process and bring more solar online to serve the American people," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade association for solar energy and related businesses.

Since 2009, the Interior Department has approved 17 utility-scale solar energy projects on public lands across the nation that, when built, are expected to produce nearly 5,900 megawatts of energy - enough to power roughly 1.8million homes.

Targeted areas for solar development are characterized by excellent solar resources, good energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources. In addition, the blueprint also allows for utility-scale solar development on about 19million acres in areas peripheral to the established zones, according to the Interior Department.

Other key elements of the environmental impact statement:

Outlines a process for industry, the public and other stakeholders to propose new or expanded solar energy zones, including California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, now in the planning stages.

Includes strong incentives for development in the designated solar energy zones, including faster and easier permitting, improved mitigation strategies and economic incentives.

Sets a clear process that allows for development of well-sited projects.

Protects natural and cultural resources by excluding 78million acres from solar energy development.

Identifies best practices features for solar energy development to ensure the most environmentally responsible development and delivery of solar energy.

Establishes a framework for regional mitigation plans.


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