U.S. drafts environmental proposal for solar energy

* Interior, Energy Departments identify land for solar

* Plan impacts six western states, including Calif.

* Public has 90 days to comment

LOS ANGELES, Dec 16 (BestGrowthStock) – The Department of the Interior
and the Department of Energy have drafted an environmental study
that identifies public lands best suited for solar development in
six western states.

The idea is to make sure planned solar plants go on sites that
aren’t just sunny and flat, but have minimal environmental and
cultural resources.

Crafting a framework for solar development is taking on
increasing importance as the West, particularly California,
encounters something of a solar boom.

While fostering renewable energy has become an important
federal and state goal, proposed plants are meeting increasing
resistance from groups that believe the plants will do irreparable
harm to threatened or endangered plants and animals.

Moving forward with the initiative will help the country “lead
in the global clean energy economy,” said Energy Secretary Steven
Chu in a statement. Proper planning “will help us site solar
projects in the right places, and reduce conflicts and delays,”
added Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Clear policy is trailing solar development. In the last three
months, the Interior Department has approved eight utility-scale
solar projects through its fast-track initiative that sought to
approve plants by year end.

The new proposal affects public land in Arizona, California,
Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The government wants to establish “Solar Energy Zones” in
those states that would offer streamlined permitting and siting
for solar projects. The lands come from Solar Energy Study Areas
identified last year.

Of about 120 million acres administered by the federal
government in the six states, officials have determined about 22
million acres are suitable for solar use. However, the government
believes only about 214,000 acres will eventually be developed by
solar companies.

Some of the plants already approved for public lands have run
into trouble with environmentalists or other groups. On Wednesday,
a judge granted the Quechan Indian tribe’s request for an
injunction to block a 709 megawatt plant — enough to power more
than 140,000 homes — in California’s Imperial Valley near the
Mexican border.

The plant, under development by NTR’s (NTRb.CO: ) Tessera Solar,
is slated for lands where the Indian tribe has burial and
religious sites.

“These projects are really, really complex,” said Helen
O’Shea, deputy director of the Western Renewable Energy Project at
the National Resources Defense Council. The projects will be able
to avoid key historic and environmental areas “if we have good
vetting of zones in the first place,” she said.

The government will hold 14 meetings and give the public 90
days to comment on the report.
(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

U.S. drafts environmental proposal for solar energy