U.S. will consider new priority areas for solar energy on public lands

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FILE PHOTO: Solar panels are seen at the Desert Stateline project near Nipton

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Monday said it would begin a process to identify new areas for solar development in the Western United States to ramp up permitting of clean energy projects on public lands in order to combat climate change.

The Interior Department said in a statement that its Bureau of Land Management will update an Obama-era plan that established special zones for solar projects based on access to transmission, solar energy potential and protecting natural and cultural resources.

The agency said the new plan would reflect advances in solar technology, new transmission and the administration’s ambitious clean energy goals.

It could also expand beyond the six states included in the 2012 plan, Interior said. The six were: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

President Joe Biden wants to decarbonize the U.S. electricity grid by 2035, something that will require rapid deployment of large amounts of new solar. Interior, specifically, has a congressional mandate to permit 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal lands by 2025.

The agency said it was initiating reviews of three new projects in Arizona that would add a gigawatt of power to the grid.

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Under Biden, Interior has sought to address concerns by wind and solar companies that public lands are less friendly to development than private lands due to higher costs and more onerous permitting.

“The Bureau of Land Management is working diligently to ensure that its processes and pace maintain the momentum we are seeing from industry,” Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Laura Daniel-Davis, said in a statement.

Shannon Eddy, president of the Large Scale Solar Association, an industry trade group, said in an email that she was “hopeful the new process can result in more pathways for solar siting.”

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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