Forty large-scale solar proposals in the West are under consideration. The Interior Department already has approved the Arica and Victory Pass solar projects on federal land in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) U.S. officials announced approval of two large-scale solar projects in California and moved to open up public lands in other Western states to potential solar power development, as part of President Biden administration's effort to counter climate change by shifting from fossil fuels.
The Interior Department approved the Arica and Victory Pass solar projects on federal land in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles. Combined they would generate up to 465 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 132,000 homes, according to San Francisco-based developer Clearway Energy.
The Interior Department also issued a call to nominate land for development within "solar energy zones" in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico that combined cover approximately 140 sq. mi.
The Bureau of Land Management oversees nearly a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in Western states. Agency Director Tracy Stone-Manning said boosting renewable energy is now one of its top priorities.
Forty large-scale solar proposals in the West are under consideration, she said.
In December 2021, the agency issued a draft plan to reduce rents and other fees paid by companies authorized to build wind and solar projects on public lands. Officials were unable to provide an estimate of how much money that could save developers.
The invitation to developers comes as officials under President Biden promote renewable wind and solar power on public lands and offshore to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet.
Biden suffered a huge blow to his climate agenda recently, as opposition from West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin tanked the administration's centerpiece climate and social services legislation. The administration also has been forced to resume oil and natural gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and numerous western states, after a federal judge sided with Republican-led states that sued when Biden suspended the sales.
"We are rebuilding that capacity," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said.
But without the climate bill, tax incentives to build large-scale solar will drop to 10 percent of a developer's total capital costs by 2024, instead of rising to 30 percent, said Xiaojing Sun, head solar researcher of industry consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
Incentives for residential-scale solar would go away completely by 2024, she said.
"It will significantly slow down the growth of solar," Sun said.
However, she added that streamlining access to federal land could help the industry, as large solar farms on non-federal lands face growing local opposition and cumbersome zoning laws.
In Nevada, where the federal government owns and manages more than 80 percent of the state's land, large-scale solar projects have faced opposition from environmentalists concerned about harm to plants and animals in the sun and windswept deserts.
Earlier in 2021, developers abandoned plans for what would have been the country's largest solar panel installation north of Las Vegas amid concerns from local residents. Environmentalists are fighting another solar project near the Nevada-California border that they claim could harm birds and desert tortoises.
Stone-Manning said solar projects on public lands are being sited to take environmental concerns into account.
The solar development zones were first proposed under the Obama administration, which in 2012 adopted plans to bring utility-scale solar energy projects to public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Officials have identified almost 1,400 square miles of public land for potential leasing for solar power.
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