Large-scale solar could add to the state’s renewable energy mix
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — After years of planning, the Bureau of Land Management is holding the first competitive auction for development of solar energy on public lands in Colorado.
Under Ken Salazar‘s leadership, the U.S. Department of Interior established a regulatory framework for solar development with a programmatic study that resulted in the designation of solar energy zones.
The Oct. 23 auction will award preference rights to submit a right-of-way application and a plan of development for commercial solar energy projects on three parcels of BLM-administered land, totaling 3,705 acres, in Conejos and Saguache counties in South Central Colorado.
The auction is at 10 a.m. at the BLM Colorado State Office, 2850 Youngfield St. in Lakewood and will be live-streamed on the web at www.blm.gov/live.
“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,” said BLM deputy Director Neil Kornze.
The solar energy zones were mapped out to avoid sensitive areas in hopes of forestalling conflict and potential protests of development plans. The BLM hopes that the development of solar energy facilites will help create jobs and generate revenue for local communities.
The Western Solar Plan, approved in October 2012, created 17 zones in six states where there is the greatest potential for solar energy, fewest resource conflicts and access to existing or planned transmission. Since then, two additional zones have been established, one each in California and Arizona.
The competitive bidding process is required for new solar development applications in Solar Energy Zones after a Department of Interior inspector general report last year highlighted some weaknesses in the BLM’s procedures for approving and managing renewable energy projects on public lands.
If fully developed, the two Colorado SEZs could produce about 400 megawatts, enough energy to power an estimated 125,000 homes.
The Department of the Interior has worked to spur other renewable energy on public lands, approving 47 projects since 2009, including more than 8,000 megawatts from 25 solar projects, 4,700 megawatts from 10 wind projects, and about 600 megawatts from 12 geothermal projects.
“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,” Kornze said.
The opening bid will be determined by the minimum bonus bid or the highest sealed bid, whichever is higher. The minimum bonus bid for each parcel is 5 percent of the rent value of the land for one year ($63 per acre for Saguache and Conejos counties) under the BLM’s interim solar rental policy.
That calculation is based on the value of the interests acquired by the preferred applicant to file an application in a SEZ. Minimum bonus bids for the three parcels are: De Tilla Gulch — $3,352; Los Mogotes East (north parcel) — $4,035; and Los Mogotes East (south parcel) — $4,284.
The company with the winning bid will then submit a project proposal that will be subject to further environmental review and public comment.
More information regarding the Solar Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, can be found at http://solareis.anl.gov/ and detailed information about the SEZs, including maps, can be viewed and downloaded at: http://solareis.anl.gov/maps/index.cfm.