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US speeding up solar development in West

Ken Salazar has set aside more than 1,000 square miles. Ken Salazar has set aside more than 1,000 square miles.
By Ken Ritter
Associated Press / June 30, 2009
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LAS VEGAS - The federal government’s top land steward said yesterday that the United States will fast-track efforts to build solar power generating facilities on public space in six Western states.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he has signed an order setting aside more than 1,000 square miles of public land for two years of study and environmental reviews to determine where solar power stations should be built.

“We are putting a bull’s-eye on the development of solar energy on our public lands,’’ Salazar said during an announcement with US Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, in a courtyard shaded by a solar power array at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Salazar and Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, invoked President Obama’s call for rapid development of renewable energy.

“We hear a lot about doing something about the environment,’’ Reid said. “That’s what this is all about. We want to not be dependent on foreign oil. This will make America a more secure nation.’’

Salazar vowed to have 13 “commercial-scale’’ solar projects under construction by the end of 2010. He set a goal of producing a total of 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.

Salazar said the federal Bureau of Land Management plans to spend $22 million conducting studies of 24 tracts in the 670,000 acres of property he set aside in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. Posters displayed yesterday showed some of the sites in southern Nevada, southern California east of San Diego, an area west of Phoenix, and tracts north of Cedar City in Utah, southwest of Pueblo, Colo., and around Las Cruces, N.M.

Bureau officials said the goal will be to identify lands of at least three square miles with solar exposure, suitable slopes, and proximity to existing or designated roads and transmission lines.

Wilderness, high-conservation-value lands, and lands with conflicting uses were excluded. Setting aside the sites, called Solar Energy Study Areas, would prevent new mining claims and other third-party use during the studies.

An industry official hailed Salazar’s promise to clear a logjam in utility-scale solar developments.

The BLM said it has 158 active applications for solar power plants pending.