The Interior Department issued a new plan Thursday for promoting large-scale solar development on public lands in the West, identifying 285,000 acres — 445 square miles — in six states where it pledged to help speed up the permitting process.
The proposal drew praise from environmentalists but a more tepid response from solar industry officials, who warned that the “solar energy zone” approach outlined by the Obama administration might complicate efforts to erect large-scale projects on federal lands.
Interior officials said they would accelerate permit approvals in 17 zones in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. An earlier version of the proposal called for creating 24 zones across 667,000 acres in those states.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said department officials hoped to steer projects to areas where there would be less chance of conflicts over environmental issues, such as endangered species, and closer proximity to electricity transmission lines. Environmental activists have sometimes challenged large-scale solar projects on the grounds that they could damage critical habitat.