* Six western states have best solar potential, least harm
* Western solar power could light up 7 million homes
* Helps meet W.House goal to double power from renewables
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, Dec 16 The Obama administration on
Thursday proposed special energy zones on public lands in six
western states deemed good locations to build utility-scale
facilities to produce electricity from solar power.
The Interior Department issued a draft environmental impact
statement that looked at the effect of solar energy projects
able to generate 20 megawatts of power in areas that have the
highest solar potential and will do the least harm to the
"As stewards of our public lands, we must make sure that we
are developing renewable energy in the right way and in the
right places," Salazar told reporters.
The western states targeted with 24 solar energy zones were
Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.
Bob Abbey, who heads the Interior Department's Bureau of
Land Management, the agency that will review any specific solar
projects, said the amount of electricity that could be
generated by the sun on all BLM lands in the six states,
including, the designated energy zones could total 24,000
megawatts over 20 years.
The department does not have an estimate for solar
generation just on the designated energy zones.
"For years, the oil and gas industries have had an easy
path for getting permits to drill on public lands. With today's
announcement, solar energy projects are now closer to a more
predictable review and approval process for projects on public
lands," said Rhone Resch, president of Solar Energy Industries
The proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days
and the department expects to issue a final report during the
fall of 2011, said Salazar.
The solar energy zones will help meet President Barack
Obama's goal to double the amount of U.S. electricity generated
by renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal.
The department's energy zone proposal comes a day after the
U.S. Senate approved extending a Treasury Department program
through next year that gives companies a rebate equal to 30
percent of the cost of their solar or wind energy projects.
To be successful, Salazar said solar projects in the six
western states will need access to transmission lines.
Federal regulators proposed last month reforms to make the
U.S. electric grid more accessible to electricity generated by
renewable energy sources, which should lower costs for
consumers who want to buy clean power.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed a rule
requiring public utility transmission providers to allow
renewable power producers to schedule their shipments of
electricity over shorter time periods to better reflect the
moment-to-moment changes in generation output by renewables.
Solar and wind power producers would be able to schedule
transmission service in 15-minute intervals, instead of the
current one-hour scheduling procedure.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)