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U.S. government drafts fast track solar energy policy

U.S. government drafts fast track solar energy policy

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The U.S. Dept. of the Interior has drafted new environmental policy which aims to fast track future solar energy development projects on public lands.

“It’s time to harness these resources and lead in the global clean energy economy. 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,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The United States Department of the Interior announced Thursday that it has drafted new environmental policy to fast track utility scale solar power projects in six western states.

The policy, known as the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), designates 24 sites on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah for renewable energy projects.

Sites were chosen on the criteria of having a minimal environmental, economic, and social impact as well as the capacity for generating 20 megawatts of power or more. The study began two years ago, according to the government.

“This analysis will help renewable energy companies and federal agencies focus development on areas of our public lands that are best suited for large-scale solar development. 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,” Interior Secretary Salazar said in a prepared statement.

The department’s ultimate goal is to provide for a more efficient permitting and siting process in the future. Public comment on PEIS will be accepted during the next 90 days. A Q&A document has been released.

An existing fast track program administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved eight projects over the past three months in California and Nevada. The sites have the potential to generate a combined 3,572 megawatts of electricity.

"The BLM’s current solar energy caseload includes 104 active solar applications covering 1 million acres that developers estimate could generate 60,000 megawatts of electricity," according to the Interior Department.

In other government happenings, the U.S. Department of Energy granted a $1.3 billion loan guarantee for a 845-megawatt wind farm in Oregon. General Electric’s Caithness Energy business unit is spearheading the project.

Energy Secretary Chu told reporters that renewable energy investments create jobs and help to maintain the country's global competitiveness in the clean energy economy.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure