SUMMIT COUNTY – The Obama administration’s push to develop more renewable energy resources reached another milestone this week, as the Interior Department finalized designation of 192,000 acres in Arizona as potentially suitable for utility-scale solar and wind energy development.
Any subsequent proposals for specific solar or wind energy projects will still need to undergo a site-specific environmental review.
According to the Interior Department, the lands identified in Arizona include previously disturbed sites (primarily former agricultural areas) and lands with low resource sensitivity and few environmental conflicts. Federal land managers in Arizona spent three years analyzing disturbed land and other areas with few known resource conflicts that could accommodate commercial renewable energy projects.
Bureau of Land Management lands in Arizona containing sensitive resources requiring protection, such as endangered or threatened wildlife and sites of cultural and historic importance, were eliminated from consideration. Additionally, the areas selected had to have reasonable access to transmission lines and load centers as well as be situated near areas with high electricity demand.
The decision also establishes the Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone, the third solar zone on public lands in Arizona and the 18th nationwide.
“This project is a key milestone in our work to spur smart development of solar and wind energy on public lands across the West,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Arizona has huge potential when it comes to building a clean energy economy, and this landscape-level plan lays a solid foundation for making sure that it happens in the right way and in the right places,” Salazar said.
Since 2009, the Obama Administration has approved 34 renewable energy proposals for public lands, including solar, wind and geothermal projects. Together, they could generate 10,400 megawatts of electricity, or enough energy to power more than 3 million homes.
The Arizona plan also sets standards for projects to avoid impacts to sensitive watersheds, ground water supplies and water quality and establishes a baseline set of environmental protection measures for proposed renewable energy projects.
“This initiative exemplifies our ‘Smart-from-the-Start’ review process, which puts appropriate pieces in place for responsibly developing renewable energy projects on public lands,” said Mike Pool, acting BLM Director. “The Arizona project can really serve as a model for future statewide analyses for responsible energy development in the West.”
The new 2,550-acre Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone is located in Yuma County near Dateland, and the BLM estimates that the zone could generate more than 20 megawatts through utility-scale solar projects. The BLM administers about 12.2 million surface acres of public lands in Arizona.
For more information on today’s announcement, including maps, a fact sheet and the ROD, click here.
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