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Plan to streamline solar development approved

Oct 13, 2012 - By Jason Dearen, The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal officials on Friday approved a plan that sets aside 445 square miles of public land for the development of large-scale solar power plants, cementing a new government approach to renewable energy development in the West after years of delays and false starts.

At a news conference in Las Vegas, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the new plan a "roadmap ... that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands."

The plan replaces the department's previous first-come, first-served system of approving solar projects, which let developers choose where they wanted to build utility-scale solar sites and allowed for land speculation.

The department no longer will decide projects within the zones on a case-by-case basis as it had since 2005, when solar developers began filing applications. Instead, the department will direct development to land it has identified as having fewer wildlife and natural-resource obstacles.

The government is establishing 17 new "solar energy zones" on 285,000 acres in six states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. More than half of the land -- 153,627 acres -- is in Southern California.

Interior also established 19 million acres -- nearly 30,000 square miles -- of so-called "variance zones" that will allow developers to propose solar projects in those areas.

Environmental and other review of projects proposed in variance zones would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

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