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6:56 AM Fri, Oct. 19th

County not included on BLM list of best places for solar

Agency working through applications which would provide 60,000-megawatts of energy

KINGMAN - The federal government released a draft plan Dec. 16 identifying 24 of the best locations on Bureau of Land Management land for utility-sized solar power plants in six Southwest states. There are three locations in Arizona, none of them located in Mohave County.

According to the study, in 2005, Congress gave the Interior Department a goal to approve 10,000-megawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2015. The BLM opened public lands to solar development shortly thereafter and was nearly overwhelmed with applications.

According to the Department of Energy, eight utility-scale solar projects have been approved in the last three months.

The BLM currently has another 104 active applications that it is working through that if built would cover 1 million acres and generate more than 60,000-megawatts of energy.

The BLM was dealing with the applications on a case-by-case basis but quickly realized that it needed a better authorization process.

It also needed to determine which public lands were best suited for solar development and would have the least amount of impact on the environment, and it needed to establish mandatory design features for solar energy development on BLM land to protect the environment.

The Department of Energy and the BLM joined forces in 2008 to identify the best locations for solar energy production on the 120 million acres of public lands in Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.

Some of the 120 million acres was excluded from the study because it was already off-limits to such developments; prohibited from use by law, regulation, presidential proclamation or executive order; had a slope of more than 5 percent and/or sunlight levels below 6.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day; or was already being used and that use was incompatible with solar energy development.

That left approximately 22 million acres of BLM land. Of those 22 million acres, 677,400 acres were identified as solar energy zones - 24 areas where the production of solar energy was good but the impact a large solar plant would have on the local environment would be minimal.

The BLM estimates that of that 677,400 acres, only about 214,000 acres will actually be used for solar energy in the future.

After completing the 11,000-page draft study, the BLM and DOE came up with three options for solar development on BLM land.

The first and preferred option would encourage developers to use the 24 solar energy zones but would allow development on other BLM land that was suitable for solar energy production.

The second option would allow solar development only in the solar energy zones.

The third option would be to continue with the current application program and not institute any changes to the program.

The full draft study and maps of all 24 solar energy zones can be found at http://solareis.anl.gov. The departments opened a 90-day public comment period on the draft study on Dec. 16 and will accept written comments through March 17. Comments can be submitted through the website or by mailing them to Solar Energy Draft Programmatic EIS, Argonne National Laboratory, 9700 S. Cass Ave. - EVS/240, Argonne, IL 60439. Comments can also be submitted at public meetings scheduled in Phoenix and Tucson in March and February. The exact dates and times of the meetings have not been determined.