The US Government Paves the Way for Utility Scale Solar Energy and More

utility scale solar

Newly approved utility scale solar projects will increase US solar jobs and power more homes with renewable energy.

The United States Department of the Interior announced earlier this month plans which represent a historic milestone in the acceleration of renewable energy in the U.S.

Seventeen utility scale solar projects on public lands in six southwestern states are projected to produce an estimated 6,000 megawatts of electricity —  enough power for approximately 1.8 million homes.  The states in which this solar energy development is focused are California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.  In addition to the above-referenced 285,000 acres of public land chosen as prime spots for solar energy development, another 19 million acres of public land in the same states have been identified as potential sites for solar power projects which are eligible to win swift federal approval.

These plans are part of the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which the  Department of the Interior will soon publish.  Among the efforts toward an acceleration of the use of clean energy in the U.S. detailed in the PEIS are the following:

• The 17 initial Solar Energy Zones (mentioned above) are established on 285,000 acres in six Western States
• A clear process for the development of utility scale solar projects on an additional 19 million acres outside of the Solar Energy Zone is set
• A process for proposing expanded or new solar energy zones is outlined
• Incentives are awarded which allow for easier and quicker permitting
• Cultural and natural resources are protected by way of excluding 78 million acres of public land from the development of solar energy
• Best practices in design are identified to ensure that the delivery of solar energy is as environmentally responsible as possible

solar jobs

The latest government-approved large-scale solar projects will hopefully create 100s of thousands of US jobs in the next few years.

Many environmental groups are very enthusiastic about the actions of the Department of the Interior because the plans will reduce greenhouse gases, create jobs, and accelerate generation of environmentally conscientious renewable energy.  And there is more.  Another aspect of the overall plan involves a partnership between the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense (DoD).  Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, have signed a document called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).  This agreement promotes the appropriate development of solar and other types of renewable energy projects on public lands which have been set aside for defense-related purposes as well as in onshore and offshore areas in close proximity to military installations.

Secretary Salazar said, “Energy security is critical to our national security. Under our ‘Smart from the Start’ approach to spurring renewable energy development, we are making millions of acres of public lands and offshore areas available that have the greatest potential for utility-scale solar and wind projects and the fewest resource conflicts.”

The DoD is serious about the development of solar power and other renewable energy sources.  These efforts will help to offset the $4 billion-per-year utility bill generated by the DoD.  Advanced microgrid technology is being tested which is expected to allow the DoD to maintain critical functions for possibly even months, in the event that the commercial grid goes down; even national security will receive a boost with the plans now being pursued.

Thanks to a substantial number of government incentives for solar which have already been in effect in recent years, the solar industry employs 100,000 Americans across our 50 states.  With the fresh direction just adopted by the federal government, it’s possible that upwards of 330,000 additional solar jobs could be added over the course of the next eight years.

Opponents of these plans are given 30 days to wage formal protests against the solar plan.  After the 30 days is expired, Mr. Salazar is expected to adopt the initiative via executive action.

Energy independence for the U.S. just got closer to being a reality.

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