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Solar Energy Zones

The Western United States is the site of an innovative solution to avoiding the bureaucratic red-tape which frequently surrounds renewable energy development, along with escalating the installation of renewable energy systems.

Seventeen solar-energy zones, which cover about 285,000 acres of public lands in six western states, have been set aside as “priority areas” for commercial-scale solar development. These zones will allow approval of solar development without the current case-by-case analysis, and provide already-installed energy transmission lines to connect the solar cells to the energy grid.

Additionally, 19 million acres will be available as “variance” areas where the federal government would continue to decide solar projects case by case, along with the exclusion of 79 million acres of federal land due to those areas being inappropriate for development.

A couple of weeks ago, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar finalized the zoning roadmap, making Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah hotbeds for solar energy development. However, will the new zones work to increase solar energy development and avoid the slow movement of bureaucracies? Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict, but the Interior Department has reason to be confident. Since 2009, they have authorized 18 utility-scale solar projects on federal lands, as well as seven wind farms and eight geothermal plants, which are expected to generate 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy when construction is complete. This amount meets the goal set by President Obama, and will provide enough electricity to power 3.5 million homes.

Despite some companies and developers within the industry being concerned about bureaucratic intervention in these new zones, it appears the approval process will still be sped up from its current rate. However, these new zones and all other renewable energy programs are entirely dependent on federal policy and action.

Without the proper policies to promote renewable energy development, there would be no development zones, and therefore no renewable energy production.

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