The United States government owns and/or manages vast stretches of land. Many of these holdings are prime real estate for renewable energy projects. Recently, talk about solar projects on Department of Interior lands has made the press.
In Western states where the U.S. holds as much as 84% of the land, it makes sense not to limit solar development to privately owned lands.
Consider this table, showing the percentage of government-owned land in the top 5 states:
- Nevada 84.5%
- Alaska 69.1%
- Utah 57.4%
- Oregon 53.1%
- Idaho 50.2%
The Secretary of the Department, Ken Salazar, recognizes that the extensive land holdings of the government can serve useful purposes besides just recreation and cultural heritage. Given that the DOI manages 1/5 of the entire landmass of the country, and several billion acres offshore, a relatively small fraction of this property can be put to renewable energy use.
On March 11, Secretary Salazar issued a Secretarial Order to declare renewable energy development a “top priority” for the department.
Over 29 million acres of DOI-managed property has been identified as having good solar energy development potential. Yet, such development is not without controversy, as shown in the recent debate about solar panels in the Mojave Desert.
In response to the need to properly identify lands for solar energy development, Secretary Salazar announced the Department would develop a list of specific zones in which “a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy,” could be facilitated. Salazar also confirmed that the Department had received about 200 applications for solar power plants on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) properties.
Of course, not all applications will move forward, nor will all projects be permitted. But, considering that only a year ago, there was a temporary ban on solar development on BLM properties, its great news to see the Department of Interior coming full-circle to the position it took in 2003 with respect to renewable energy projects on federal lands:
Increasing our domestic development of renewable energy sources, will help to reduce our dependency on foreign sources of energy…As the report demonstrates, public lands have abundant opportunities for renewable energy development.
I’m looking to a bright 2009-2010 with respect to solar projects on Department of Interior lands.
A new Secretary and new directives to spur renewable energy development should be just the kick-start the economy and the nation needs!