‘Solar Energy Zones’ announced for US desert regions

In a proactive policy move, the US government’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released maps of areas that have already passed most or all requisite environmental and cultural conditions for the development of large-scale, commercial solar power installations. Once the policy is in place, it will streamline the process of finding a location for commercial solar developers.

17 ‘Solar Energy Zones’ across 6 western states have been detailed in the maps released by the BLM last Thursday (27 Oct 2011). The policy will not be finalised until 2012, but the announcement will have a significant impact on how companies considering large-scale solar installations will choose locations and plan their developments. It also means that there will be much less ‘guesswork’ when it comes to siting large-scale installations, thereby avoiding some of the pitfalls that befell the massive Ivanpah ‘solar tower’ project in the Californian desert. The new policy will affect the commercial-scale projects already in the pipeline: there are currently 13 commercial-scale solar projects under construction plus 79 pending applications in the US.

Some conservation groups, however, have called for more stringent restrictions than those proposed under the new policy, pointing out the fragile nature of the desert ecology, and the inappropriateness of mass industrialisation on habitat for endangered flora and fauna. Instead, the argument goes, roof-top solar installations should be prioritised, as they have the dual benefit of construction on land that is already built up, and they encourage wiser electricity use in the home.

Nevertheless, the BLM’s move is an important step if the US is to effectively encourage the uptake of non-fossil fuel fired power stations. Australia is likewise doing its part in promoting the uptake of large-scale solar projects through the Federal Government’s Solar Flagships initiative, which provides funding for commercial solar projects.

Resources and links:

Nashua Telegraph: “US announces desert ‘solar energy zones'”

Related Solar Choice articles: Articles about commercial solar power projects : Solar Flagships Projects : Solar Choice Commercial Finance Package

James Martin II