The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a part of the Department of the Interior, has identified the best sites for solar power projects in the Western United States. A new plan unveiled by the Obama administration identifies seventeen “solar energy zones” in six states west of the Mississippi in which utility scale solar power plants should be considered.
Nearly 450 square miles (285,000 acres) of desert lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah have been given high priority for solar development. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, identifying solar energy zones is “intended to make some of the desert’s most sensitive landscapes less desirable for solar prospecting by identifying ‘sweet spots’ that have already passed environmental requirements and therefore promise expedited permitting.” An additional 31,250 square miles in the region were also identified by BLM as potential sites for solar power projects, provided environmental impacts could be minimized.
Both environmentalists and solar developers praise the BLM solar energy zone policy. Streamlining solar permitting will benefit utility scale projects, while location of such projects in areas that are not constrained by environmental or cultural conflicts. The policy, however, will not affect the continued permitting process and construction of 13 solar power projects in the Mojave Desert region.