This week, the federal government approved to build a solar farm covering 445 square miles in the Western United States. The land is in parts of California (fifty percent of the land is in Southern California), Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The project could produce as much as 23,700 megawatts of renewable energy on government land, enough energy to provide solar power to 7 million homes.
Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, finalized the plan with United States Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). The new plan capitalizes on the abundance of sunshine and potential for solar power in this sunny region of the country. The land will be divided into 17 solar energy zones that will house future solar plants, all of which are located near major power lines that will allow the power to be easily distributed to homes. The government says it is open to the idea of adding more zones in the future, and will also consider development outside of the zones on a case-by-case basis through 19 million acres of land designated as variance zones. Because one of the program’s goals is to conserve natural resources, it has ruled out development on 79 million acres of land where development would harm the environment.
Besides creating 13,000 jobs in operations and construction at solar power plants and providing clean energy to millions of people, the project’s achievements represent a historic cooperation with the federal government and the energy industry. Previously, renewable energy developers have submitted plans to the federal government proposing sites to house green energy plants, a largely inefficient process that required reviews of each case’s possible environmental impacts and caused delays in renewable energy projects. Under the new regulations, private development in the region will occur within the designated 445 square miles of public land. The designated land has been chosen by the government because it poses few environmental risks, such as the threat of habitat destruction to endangered species, a factor that has plagued prior renewable energy development projects and has been criticized by environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy approves of the government’s new plan, saying that it will allow development to continue while preserving the desert landscape of the western United States.
“We are proud to be a part of this initiative to cut through red tape and accelerate the development of America’s clean, renewable energy,” said secretary of energy Steven Chu. “There is a global race to develop renewable energy technologies—and this effort will help us win this race by expanding solar energy production while reducing permitting costs.”
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