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Building a Strong Foundation for a Solar Energy Future


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When we arrived at Interior in 2009, there were hundreds of applications pending from solar companies who wanted to build projects on public lands -- and no method to move them forward. There were zero solar projects permitted or built on public lands.

Under President Obama's leadership, we turned the old system on its head. We created a path forward, removed burdensome roadblocks, and focused our resources to process applications for renewable energy in coordinated, timely manner.

We have cut red tape without cutting corners -- and in the past two years, Interior has approved 22 major renewable energy projects on public lands, including wind, solar, and geothermal. These include 13 major solar projects that, when built, could produce nearly 5,000 megawatts of energy. That's enough to power approximately 1.5 million American homes.

Last month I went the Nevada-California border where I visited two of these solar projects. The Brightsource Ivanpah project had nearly 1,000 construction workers on site that day building the 370 megawatt solar power tower. First Solar's Silver State North Solar Project, just a few miles away, was teeming with activity, and is expected to feed clean, solar power to the grid by the end of this year. It will be the first-ever solar energy project on BLM lands to come online.

What is happening is nothing short of a revolution. Real progress is being made. Real jobs are being created. And we are making believers out of skeptics.

Yesterday, we continued to build on that progress by laying out a roadmap for a bright solar energy future with the release of the Supplement to the draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or Solar PEIS.

The Solar PEIS seeks to establish -- for the first time -- a solid foundation for long-term, landscape-level planning for solar energy development on public lands.

We are doing this by identifying lands in six western states - Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah - that we believe are best suited for environmentally-sound, large-scale solar energy production.

After we heard back from many stakeholders on the draft blueprint we released in December, we announced that we would undertake a targeted supplement to strengthen the initial framework.

With the Supplement to the draft Solar PEIS, we are taking a giant step toward establishing a solar energy program that is enduring and sustainable for many years to come.

* This means smarter, better siting decisions so solar projects avoid and minimize conflicts with important wildlife, cultural and historic resources. We're doing the analysis up front so that we can be "smart from the start."
* This means meaningful solar energy zones -- totaling over 285,000 acres of public lands - with transmission solutions that offer developers greater certainty and other incentives -- like reduced permitting times - to develop within those zones.
* This means a program that is flexible enough to allow for development of well-sited projects outside of zones -- on more than 20 million acres of public lands.
* And this means making sure that the solar program has the opportunity to grow and incorporate other, parallel planning efforts to establish additional solar energy zones.

As we near the end of Energy Action Month, know that Interior is taking an "all-hands-on-deck' approach to building a strong foundation for solar energy both right now - and far into the future.

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