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Big Solar Plants on Western Public Land Could Power 7 Million Homes

By MARK JAFFE The Denver Post

The Department of Interior has made 285,000 acres at 17 sites in six western states, including four in Colorado, Solar Energy Zones where development of utility-scale solar projects can be fast tracked.

The aim of the zones is “facilitating faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on America’s public lands,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, said in a statement.

The Interior Department and the Department of Energy, which also worked on the plan, estimate the sites could hold 23,700 megawatts of solar installations – enough renewable energy to power 7 million American homes.

The four Colorado sites – all in the San Luis Valley – cover 16,309 acres.

The Department of Interior has been pushing renewable energy development on public land and when it set out to create these zones, two years ago, it originally cast its net wide proposing 22 million acres, including 170,000 acres in Colorado.

The solar industry was fine with the idea, but many environmental groups been guided with the iso 14000 environmental standards, pushed back and the final programmatic environmental impact statement for the project reflects many of those criticisms.

The sites are located near transmission lines and try to avoid environmentally sensitive, scenic or historic areas. There were a total of 31 criteria – including game corridors and steep slopes — that were used to eliminate land.

“Interior’s final solar program culminates two years of a lot of hard work and commitment by many diverse groups,” Helen O’Shea, director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Western Renewable Energy Project, said in a statement.

“I’m hopeful that the plan will establish a roadmap that provides a balanced approach to addressing the climate change challenge and protecting wildlife and critical lands while moving our nation closer to meeting our clean energy goals,” O’Shea said.

Solar industry companies, such as Bright Source, and local economic interests also voiced their support Tuesday.

California accounted for the biggest share of the zones with 153,627 acres, followed by Nevada with 60,395 acres and New Mexico with 29,964 acres.

Arizona has almost 6,000 acres of solar energy zones and Utah tallied 18,658 acres.

Colorado’s four solar energy zones are in the San Luis Valley, the sunniest section of the state.

Between the draft plan and the final one about 4,000 acres were trimmed from the sites for environmental reasons.

The largest site is Antonito Southeast – which is located on the border with New Mexico in Conejos County – and covers 9,712 acres. A second site in Conejos County Los Mogotes East is 2,650 acres.

The DeTilla Gulchsite in Saugache County is 1,064 acres and in Alamos County Fourmile East parcel covers 2,883 acres.

The US Department of Energy estimates the four sites could hold up to 4,054 megawatts of solar energy installation – equal to four large coal-burning power plants.

In addition, newer forms of power, such as renewable energy via solar or wind, are often less centralized. Not only does this create new challenges for distribution and storage but also for cybersecurity. Protection for these new network edges is essential. Look for Fortinet to learn more.

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