The detailed study, known as a Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, names 24 "solar energy zones" that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said are "best suited for large-scale solar development."
"We think it provides a common sense and flexible framework through which to grow our nation's renewable energy economy," Salazar told reporters on a teleconference.
"Our early, Smart from the Start, planning will help us site solar projects in the right places, and reduce conflicts and delays at later stages of the development process," Salazar said.
"Our country has incredible renewable resources, innovative entrepreneurs, a skilled workforce, and manufacturing know-how," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "It's time to harness these resources and lead in the global clean energy economy."
The public is encouraged to provide comment on the draft plan during the next 90 days. The Notice of Availability for the Draft Solar PEIS will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, December 17 and is available today in the Reading Room. The 90-day public comment period will include 14 open meetings, beginning in Washington, DC on February 2, 2011.
"Today's announcement is part of an integrated strategy to cultivate the entire innovation chain to create the jobs of the 21st century economy and to put America on a sustainable energy path," said Chu.
"This proposal lays out the next phase of President Obama's strategy for rapid and responsible development of renewable energy on America's public lands," Salazar said.
Under the proposal, the Bureau of Land Management would establish Solar Energy Zones within the lands available for solar development right of way applications. These are areas that have been identified as most appropriate for development, containing the highest solar energy potential and fewest environmental and resource conflicts.
Amonix high concentration photovoltaic system, Las Vegas, Nevada (Photo courtesy Amonix)
The Solar Energy Zones would provide directed, landscape-scale planning for future solar projects and allow for a more efficient permitting and siting process.
The initiative stems from Salazar's June 2009 announcement that tracts of BLM land in the six western states, known as Solar Energy Study Areas, would be fully evaluated for their environmental and resource suitability for large-scale solar energy production.
Also today, Energy Secretary Chu announced the Department of Energy's intent to fund up to $50 million to test and demonstrate innovative technologies that will lead to cost-competitive solar energy technologies.
The demonstration program will be a critical link between the Department of Energy's advanced technology development programs and full-scale commercialization efforts.
The Nevada National Security Site, previously the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, will serve as a proving ground for cutting-edge solar technologies, such as concentrating solar thermal power and concentrating photovoltaic energy. These technologies can be used for utility applications in the Southwest where there is an abundance of solar energy.
"This funding will allow the Department to further test advanced and innovative solar energy technologies in real-world conditions, providing critical data for companies and communities looking to invest in large-scale solar projects," said Chu.
"The Solar Demonstration Zone in Nevada is part of an integrated effort to expand the solar energy industry, helping to put America on a path to a sustainable energy future and create the jobs of the 21st century economy," he said.
Potential technology applications include concentrated solar power systems that use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight on a heat absorbing fluid, convert it to steam, and ultimately generate electricity, as well as concentrated photovoltaic power that uses lenses to concentrate sunlight to improve the efficiency of conventional photovoltaics.
The demonstration projects as part of the Solar Demonstration Zone will be deployed at a large enough scale to provide useful operating and economic data for the eventual deployment of solar energy projects at utility-scale, which are typically grid-connected projects larger than 20 megawatts.
The Solar Demonstration Zone at the Nevada National Security Site will complement the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management's 24 Solar Energy Study Areas on public lands across the Southwest by providing essential data about the commercial viability of the most advanced solar technologies.
As part of DOE and the Department of Interior's continuing collaboration, the departments are working together to implement this project, including conducting environmental reviews and coordinating necessary infrastructure planning for the site.
The DOE's Funding Opportunity Announcement is slated for early next year, but funding for the project is dependent upon congressional appropriations.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.