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In order to speed up the development of solar power in the US, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced new measures to inspect 676,000 acres of land. The goal? Determine which areas could support huge solar power arrays, and get development started and clean energy flowing as soon as possible. The so-called "solar study zones" will reportedly focus on 24 tracts of land in six states; Colorado, California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. The studies will streamline the permitting process, and pave the way for solar developers to set up shop with greater ease. Because of this, Salazar predicts there will be at least 13 large commercial solar power plants operating in those areas by 2010.
Solar advocacy groups, predictably, are ecstatic. From Green Inc:
Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, praised the initiatives. It's about time to make the permitting process more efficient and provide greater guidance to solar developers," he said in a statement. Mr. Resch also noted that no permits have yet been issued for solar projects, despite the approval of over 7,000 permits for oil and gas drilling on Bureau of Land Management land in 2007.A valid point indeed--there are literally millions of acres already set aside for oil and gas exploration and drilling.
Some environmental groups are concerned about how large-scale solar development might impact ecosystems, and the new studies will also help speed up the process in determining whether, say, a solar power array can coexist with the desert habitats in the Mojave Desert or not.
In addition to the solar studies, the measure includes opening up what will be known as "Interior renewable energy coordination offices," which will help speed the process of approving applications for solar permits from private companies. Given that the offices work thoroughly and efficiently, and the studies are well conducted, this is great news for the American solar power industry.