Federal plan designed to create large solar energy plants

Oct 15, 2012 by Julie Cart

The Obama administration has formally adopted a plan to help create large-scale solar energy plants, offering incentives for solar developers to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of federal land in the western U.S and opening an additional 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert for new power plants.

The plan places 445 square miles of public land in play for utility-scale solar facilities.

The program, announced Friday by Interior Secretary at an event in Las Vegas, will apply to new projects only and not the 17 solar facilities already awarded permits or the 78 currently in the approval pipeline.

"This historic initiative provides a road map for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale on public lands," Salazar said.

The plan establishes 17 solar energy zones in six Western states, including 154,000 acres in California. The zones were chosen because they avoided major environmental, cultural or other conflicts. The policy encourages developers to select sites within zones by promising minimal environmental reviews and expedited permitting and a range of additional .

But developers can sidestep the zones under certain conditions. Companies may construct plants on 19 million acres designated as "variance" zones, but the government offers fewer incentives to build there. Another 79 million acres are in exclusion zones, where no is allowed.

California has 2 { times more acreage in solar zones than any other state. The state has 750,000 acres in variance areas.

Some conservation groups fought to prevent approval of utility-scale projects in the region, contending that the desert - home to scores of endangered plants and animals - was not capable of absorbing industrial-scale projects.

"We are ... disappointed to see that vital habitat for the federally threatened is still open to potential development through the variance process," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Critics contend that the policies are too late, coming after years of free-for-all leasing that encouraged rampant speculation. Since leasing began, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been working to process more than 300 solar applications.

Many of those are for land in California's , where counties have seen the cost of private land soar and the desert given over to thousands of acres of mirrors.

Earlier this week the Interior Department announced that it had surpassed a milestone - authorizing the first 10,000 megawatts of power. The fast-tracking of solar facilities on public lands is expected to generate nearly 24,000 megawatts of renewable power by 2030, officials said.

But so far, the unprecedented urgency given to projects on public land has yielded only 50 megawatts of produced power, according to officials.

Janine Blaeloch of the group Solar Done Right supports renewable energy but said wholesale development of the desert is a mistake.

"This should all be happening on rooftops and in cities," Blaeloch said. "But that wouldn't profit the big utilities, and industry wouldn't be able to get tax breaks, so we wreck the desert instead. We aren't getting that public land back. Once it's industrialized, everything that lives there and everything we enjoy about it will be gone."

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User comments : 14

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jerryd
2.3 / 5 (4) Oct 15, 2012

By far the best solar and wind sites are on homes, buildings where income/savings is 2-3x's as high because they save.make retail costs, not wholesale.

Now add the savings of transmission lines , far less need for power back up because they are far more spread out, thus average out and home/building RE is the clear winner even over coal, NG or nuke!!

Like many techs done by big business they add way too much comissions, profits, overhead that home/ building units avoid and go to their bottom line, not utilities!!
chromosome2
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2012
Yeah, somehow I don't think people are going to be mounting mirror-field based solar collector plants on the roofs of their houses.

I don't know how the environmental impact compares between lowering our emissions and the direct damage to the desert environment..
Ulg
2 / 5 (4) Oct 15, 2012
By far the best solar and wind sites are on homes

Sorry but residential accounts for less then 20% of electrical demand, and even then its hard enough to cover that as a homeowner.
RE is the clear winner even over coal, NG or nuke!!

Not really at all, by the time photovotaic sits on a shelf its caused more ecological damage then nuclear. PV wafers are not doped with rainbows and happiness, its rare earth elements that in nature come along side other ones that are deadly toxic and typically are blasted out of a smokestack in China during refining. Just something to think about when you goto grocery store and most of the fish sold in US supermarkets comes from waters off China and meets the USDA lowest permissible value.
Ulg
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 15, 2012
RE is the clear winner even over coal, NG or nuke!!


Not only does PV cause more deaths/watt delivered- it has a vastly larger footprint, uses far more materials. Strip away useless regulation and federal handouts (subsidies) it also costs. I defy you tell me one thing it does better other then make disillusioned people pat themselves on back.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (9) Oct 15, 2012
But federal land with proven oil, gas and coal won't be opened.
LED Guy
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2012
@ulg

Check your semiconductor physics. Rare earths are not used in photovoltaics. Virtually all the PV installations use silicon based cells. The majority of the dopants used are boron and phosphorus and those are at ppm levels.

Arsenic is used in more advanced silicon devices, but its still at ppm levels.

Your cell phone uses gallium arsenide devices and that is almost 52% arsenic by weight. Ditch the cell phone and all the wi-fi/blue tooth devices and you will do more for the environment.

No arguments on the subsidies and people trying to make themselves feel good. Without the subsidies, the payback is just too long.
VendicarD
2 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2012
Future generations are pleased.

"But federal land with proven oil, gas and coal won't be opened." - RyggTard
VendicarD
2 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2012
Another increadably ignorant Conservative.

"its rare earth elements that in nature come along side other ones that are deadly toxic and typically are blasted out of a smokestack in China during refining. " - Ulq

Death is the only cure.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2012
@Vendi,

What the hell was that (above)? A death threat of some sort?

Dude, seek professional help. And I mean, do it yesterday.
Off-grid
3 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2012
Ulg - name one clear thing...

When the power grid is down, those off-grid or with a hybrid solar system can keep the lights on. Last Halloween's storm in the northeast shut down our state. PV houses were where the parties were held, food was cooked, and families and friends were welcomed.
VendicarD
1 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2012
Ignorance of the kind shown by Ulq has no cure since the brain wiring has been permanently malformed.

"What the hell was that (above)?" - PinkieWinkie

Death is the only cure.
geokstr
1 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2012
@Vendi,

What the hell was that (above)? A death threat of some sort?

Dude, seek professional help. And I mean, do it yesterday.

This is a typical VD comment. Often, he will call for the death of all conservatives, who make up 40& of the American population, compared to only 20% for liberals. Now you can see why communists in the last century killed 100 million of their own citizens, simply for not agreeing with the Dear Leaders, because leftists believe in the death penalty for blaspemy.
_traw_at
not rated yet Oct 21, 2012
Yup. Renewable energy sure is an unwise path to follow. That's why Saudi Arabia has decided to go to 100% R.E., and other oil-producing nations are also switching over. What do they know that we don't?
http://www.guardi...ergy-oil

http://www.sustai...id/24192

http://www.cleane.../en/map/

Go green or go broke.
ValeriaT
not rated yet Oct 21, 2012
The problem with exploitation of solar energy in the USA is, the USA would help the import of Chinese technologies or they would be forced to violate the principles of free market. The Chinese can already manufacture solar cells in way cheaper way, than the USA, because they've cheaper labor force and direct access to raw sources (indium, rare metals) used in their production. I'm afraid, the usual strategy of the USA, i.e. to attack the country which keeps the prices of raw sources high will not work here. Another problem with solar energy is, it's unreliable, it produces the energy in deserts where it has no consumption, so it must be transported over large areas (it overloads and destabilizes the grid) and without cheap accumulation of energy it indeed doesn't balance the consumption of electricity over night and winter. What worse, this strategy just delays the final solution of energetic problem, which is the cold fusion - not diluted and unreliable solar energy.