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Site near Newberry Springs designated prime solar energy zone

NEAR NEWBERRY SPRINGS • An area 20 miles from Newberry Springs was identified Thursday as one of 24 prime “solar energy zones” in a draft of a plan designed to speed the development of alternative energy projects.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said Thursday that the analysis will help  speed the development of renewable energy projects on public lands and determine where the best sites are for solar energy projects.

“This proposal lays out the next phase of President [Barack] Obama’s strategy for rapid and responsible development of renewable energy on America’s public lands,” said Salazar in a statement. “This analysis will help renewable energy companies and federal agencies focus development on areas of public lands that are best suited for large-scale solar development.”

The study names 24 prime solar energy zones in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Mexico and Utah. Part of the study was conducted on a 23,950--acre parcel of Bureau of Land Management land near Pisgah, in an area between Newberry Springs and Ludlow on both sides of Interstate 40. The three other sites studied within California include BLM land in Riverside and Imperial counties.

The BLM partnered with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy in order to complete the study, which has been in the planning stage for two years. The study took into account environmental, social and economic impacts that any future solar projects would have.

The sites that received the recommendation for the solar zone project were designated to be the most appropriate for development because they had the highest solar energy potential and the lowest amount of environmental and resource conflicts, such as water usage. A total of 22 million acres of BLM land would be available for solar development, including 677,400 acres within the proposed Solar Energy Zones.

The areas were rated according to the solar insulation scale, which is the amount of kilowatt hours the sun produces per square meter each day. The areas had to score a 6.5 or greater on the solar insulation scale in order to be considered ideal for solar development. The Pisgah area scored about an eight on the scale.

The public will be able to comment on the plan during the next 90 days. The final study is expected to be issued in the fall of 2011.

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