Government pushes solar power in six western states

WASHINGTON Thu Dec 16, 2010 5:42pm EST

An array of solar panels point to the Nevada sky as they generate electricity for use on Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada May 27, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

An array of solar panels point to the Nevada sky as they generate electricity for use on Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada May 27, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Thursday proposed special energy zones on public lands in six western states deemed good locations to build utility-scale facilities to produce electricity from solar power.

The Interior Department issued a draft environmental impact statement that looked at the effect of solar energy projects able to generate 20 megawatts of power in areas that have the highest solar potential and will do the least harm to the environment.

"As stewards of our public lands, we must make sure that we are developing renewable energy in the right way and in the right places," Salazar told reporters.

The western states targeted with 24 solar energy zones were Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

Bob Abbey, who heads the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, the agency that will review any specific solar projects, said the amount of electricity that could be generated by the sun on all BLM lands in the six states, including, the designated energy zones could total 24,000 megawatts over 20 years.

The department does not have an estimate for solar generation just on the designated energy zones.

"For years, the oil and gas industries have had an easy path for getting permits to drill on public lands. With today's announcement, solar energy projects are now closer to a more predictable review and approval process for projects on public lands," said Rhone Resch, president of Solar Energy Industries Association.

The proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days and the department expects to issue a final report during the fall of 2011, said Salazar.

The solar energy zones will help meet President Barack Obama's goal to double the amount of U.S. electricity generated by renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal.

The department's energy zone proposal comes a day after the U.S. Senate approved extending a Treasury Department program through next year that gives companies a rebate equal to 30 percent of the cost of their solar or wind energy projects.

To be successful, Salazar said solar projects in the six western states will need access to transmission lines.

Federal regulators proposed last month reforms to make the U.S. electric grid more accessible to electricity generated by renewable energy sources, which should lower costs for consumers who want to buy clean power.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed a rule requiring public utility transmission providers to allow renewable power producers to schedule their shipments of electricity over shorter time periods to better reflect the moment-to-moment changes in generation output by renewables.

Solar and wind power producers would be able to schedule transmission service in 15-minute intervals, instead of the current one-hour scheduling procedure.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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Comments (2)
MassResident wrote:
The part about “should lower costs for consumers who want to buy clean power” is only true in the sense that building the lines with taxpayer money makes someone else pay for it. In practice all solar power projects involve forcing the utilities to buy the power and pass the costs on to their customers. The largest user of solar power is Germany and they only got to 10% of the total at a cost that consumers are revolting against. As a result, they have reauthorized the few nuclear plants they have for the next 20 years instead of closing them as planned. The French get 95% of their electric power from Nuclear because it is affordable. Wind and solar are not. To get to energy independence or avoid global warming, we need the 95%, not the 10% that costs four times as much per KWH.

Dec 16, 2010 6:30pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ecofreak wrote:
Before you start to advocate nuclear power look into all the facts on it. The mining process is excessively toxic in every aspect. The storage of the spent fuel is also costly,plus you have security issues with the possibility of terror organization gaining access to materials. The cost of building reactors is huge and they always run over budget & schedule. Then there is the cost of dismantling them after their life cycle. All these thing’s also are paid for by the taxpayer. There has also been problems with the aquadic ecosystems from the raising of water temperture from the discharge of water used for cooling purposes.
Solar has great possibilities, but putting it on public lands at long distances from the end user is sort of foolish. The power loss from point of transmision to consumer is 50 to 60%. That is a lot of product loss. Plus your going to build ugly transmission lines in undeveloped areas. When designing a PV electrical system for single homes the entire system designed is for a loss of 12 to 15%.Whouldn’t make more sense to use goverment funding for individuals to generate their own power? Low interest loans to home owners would be a far more effective use of funds in my opinion. No ugly,costly lines to build & maintain. Power used at or near the source of generation to make it more efficient & dependable. Add special incentives to use North American built modules & componets to give much needed job growth. We should also start to look into tidal power generation more. It is constant and much closer to a bulk of where the population is located. This way it would be much easier to tie into the existing grid. Iknow that the fossil fuel & utility industries would hate these ideas & would lobby against them in a big way, but I can dream can’t I ? Maybe We all should dream a little more. Then act on those dreams.

Dec 26, 2010 1:10pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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