Administration Gives Solar Industry Big Shot in the Arm

by | Dec 17, 2010

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Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced a comprehensive environmental analysis that has identified proposed ‘solar energy zones’ on public lands in six western states most suitable for utility-scale solar energy production.

Concurrently, the Energy Secretary Chu announced the Department’s intent to aggressively fund up to $50 million to test and demonstrate innovative technologies that will lead to cost-competitive solar energy technologies.

In addition, last night the House passed a bill which included US Tax Grant Program (TGP) 1603, which subsidizes about 30% of the new facility costs for renewable energy projects.

The draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) is available for public review and comment for the next 90 days.

Under this proposal, the BLM would establish Solar Energy Zones (SEZ’s) on 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, more than 6.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day,  and fewest environmental and resource conflicts.

The land tracts evaluated amount to about 22 million acres of BLM-administered lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Of the estimated 677,400 acres that have been identified as proposed Solar Energy Zones, the agencies anticipate solar energy development on only about 214,000 acres.

As it completes the Solar PEIS, the BLM continues to process existing solar energy applications. Eight utility-scale solar projects have been approved in the last three months through the Department’s ‘fast-track initiative’ for BLM lands in California and Nevada that, combined, will generate 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.

The Department expects to make a formal Funding Opportunity Announcement (ref. no. DE-FOA-0000233) early next year.

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.

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