The US Department of the Interior (DOI) has given PV in North American a major boost by creating 17 solar energy zones (SEZ) under its new industry roadmap. The zones, which will help promote utility-scale project development by reducing permitting times, are located on 285,000 acres of public land in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
The DOI's decision is partly in response to the 80,000 comments made by developers, stakeholders and residents in the aforementioned states after it released the Supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development (Solar PEIS) last December.
“This Solar PEIS establishes for the first time a blueprint for landscape-level planning that will help facilitate smarter siting of solar energy projects,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “[It] lays a solid foundation for an enduring, sustainable solar energy future for our nation.”
The rejigging of the Solar PEIS saw seven proposed SEZs — in Arizona, California and New Mexico — abandoned due to development constraints or serious resource conflicts, while the sites which made the cut were altered for logistical reasons and to minimise potential conflicts with the local environment.
Research is already underway to unearth sites for potential new SEZs, with the Arizona Restoration Energy Design Program, the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation and the California Desert Renewable Energy Conseravtion Plan all enlisted to help with the search.
Away from the SEZs, the DOI is continuing to put its weight behind utility-scale solar developments on public land elsewhere — In the past 24 months, the department has approved 13 major commercial-scale solar facilities.