Denver public auction for solar development zones draws no bids

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The first competitive auction of federal lands in the US specifically for developing solar power took place in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, but ended having seen no bidders take part.

The US Bureau of Land Management (BML), which hosted the auction, announced it in August, and offered three parcels of Denver land designated as Solar Energy Zones (SEZ), part of the wider Western Solar Plan.

The Western Solar Plan created 17 SEZs across six US states for the intention of developing up to 6GW of solar capacity, as outlined in president Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Obama also reiterated this commitment to renewable energy proliferation with the June release of the Climate Action Plan. A further two zones were subsequently added to the list.

The three parcels of land offered in yesterday's auction were over 1,000 acres (404.7 hectares) each in size, the De Tilla Gulch SEZ (430.58 hectares), the northern and southern portions of the Los Mogotes East SEZ (518.8 hectares and 550.4 hectares respectively). According to BLM, the two areas could provide electricity for up to 125,000 homes, at a capacity of around 400MW if fully developed.

Winners of the auction process would then have been made preferred applicant to submit a right-of-way (ROW) application and plan to develop their selected parcel of SEZ land. Success in the auction therefore, would not have ensured ROW authorisation or rights to the property. A period of public comment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) would also have followed before developers could obtain land rights. Bid prices for non-sealed bids were set based on 5% of annual land rent.

According to a ‘Questions and Answers’ document published on the BLM website, bidders were required to register at 9:00 am for the oral auction, which began at 10:00 am, submitting an administrative fee of US$48,169 for each parcel of land. Unsuccessful bids would have had fees returned.  

Quoted in the regional Denver Post, Ken Borngrebe, environmental permitting manager for First Solar said market uncertainties could be partly to blame, while Solar Energy Industries Association spokesman Ken Johnson said that regulatory uncertainty was another potential factor. Johnson went on to say that BLM had not finalised the framework that successful bidders would be subjected to.

The parcels of land will however remain open to potential sale for use in solar power generation. It is not yet clear whether another auction will be held. Thursday’s auction took place as the final day of this year’s Solar Power International Convention took place in Chicago.

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