According to a recent post on AZCentral.com the Federal Government has set aside 285,000 acres of public land across six states for use as utility scale solar energy. It’s great to begin seeing some structure on the way these types of projects are set up. I know some folks want the Government to stay out of everything but in fact there are some areas that can use a bit of help and this is one of those areas.
Why?? It’s important to remember that these projects are not like building a strip mall on the corner or even a good size office complex. Building a solar farm is a massive project covering thousands of acres at a time. The investment is measured in Billions of dollars and can take years of construction. Because of the size and scope of these projects, environmental impacts become a major issue. Essentially, the developer clears a thousand acres of land and installs solar panels, unfortunately the odd lizard, bird or fish can delay or derail the project and even a few weeks of delays can cost millions of dollars. Additionally, the utility needs to run transmission lines to move the electricity and this alone can add millions of dollars and create delays as the utilities need to negotiate with communities and land owners to run the lines.
With this new announcement the Federal Government has designated special zones for solar farms. Each zone has been pre-screened to insure a minimum of environmental conflicts. Also, by consolidating these into a handful of the requirements associated transmission lines can be greatly simplified. By stepping in the Feds have improved the probability the projects can be completed on time and on budget. While the officials in Arizona don’t always appreciate the help (regulations) from Washington, in this case we should be grateful. Arizona is a great place for solar energy and these moves will only serve to make it even better.