The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), working with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency, has identified hundreds of thousands of acres of publicly managed land across six Southwest states in 2012 as Solar Energy Zones (SEZs). While other sites identified as Solar Energy Zones are already part of some energy projects in California, the BLM hasn’t held an auction of the sites until now. The first of these auctions took place Oct. 24 in Colorado.
The Solar Energy Zones represent a new approach to using federally managed land for the public good. The BLM has been auctioning off or making agreements to use public lands for mining, ranching, oil and gas extraction, wind and other purposes since its inception. But when the Obama Administration announced it would create these Solar Energy Zones, the BLM requested public input and worked with environmental groups and others to identify the regions most suitable for solar power—regions that didn’t disturb wildlife or at-risk species and were situated close to existing transmission and transportation corridors. The result are lands effectively fast-tracked for solar projects with environmental impact statements (EIS) already done.
“President Obama challenged us to bring 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on line by 2020. We've made great strides toward meeting that goal, and this effort will bring us one step closer,” said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze.
Today’s auctions were for three parcels of land, totaling 3,705 acres, managed by the BLM. “The auction will award preference rights to submit a right-of-way application and a plan of development for commercial solar energy projects…in Conejos and Saguache counties in South Central Colorado,” the BLM said. If the parcels are fully developed as solar projects, they could produce a total of 400 megawatts of power, which the BLM said is enough to power roughly 125,000 homes in Colorado.
The auctions represent part of the lands identified in Colorado as SEZs. In all, the BLM identified 16,308 acres in Colorado as SEZs. That’s enough land for 1.8 gigawatts of solar power or enough to power more than 500,000 homes.
“These Solar Energy Zones are part of our effort to make sure that we’re developing clean energy in the right places and in the right ways,” Kornze said. “Thursday’s competitive auction is an important milestone as we seek to accelerate the development of clean energy on our public lands that hold enormous potential for solar power and for generating jobs and revenue for local communities.”
The opening bid at the auction was determined by what the BLM called the minimum bonus bid (5 percent of the rent value of the land for one year) or the highest sealed bid, whichever is higher. In Saguache and Conejos counties, that equals $63 per acre. After the auction winners are announced, they will submit project plans for the BLM to review and approve. The auctions will help create hundreds of solar jobs at each site, as they are built.