The Bureau of Land Management is planning to limit large scale solar development to defined areas. This is a step forward from the "land rush" that recently occurred in the Mojave Desert, where the December 2010 stimulus funding led to biologists relocating tortoises ahead of the bulldozers in the Ivanapah Valley. (Unfortunately, the desert tortoise is not a species that relocates well.) However, there are several problems with the plan as it stands, particularly in Colorado.
All four of the proposed BLM solar zones are located in the San Luis Valley. This could be because Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hails from the valley, or because XCEL Energy is bent on profiting from large solar plants and transmission lines. This plan has insufficient geographic diversity - while the SLV gets the most sun, it isn't always the best sun. XCEL's own study shows that in times of peak demand on the front range, summer afternoon, the valley is beset by monsoon clouds, lowering it's ability to carry loads. This could be ameliorated by increasing the geographic diversity of solar arrays, for instance, placing them on the corners of irrigation circles rather than on public lands. Battery storage can buffer variable power.
Grid issues can happen in the winter as well - witness the recent problems in Texas and New Mexico. Winter is the time when the entire San Luis Valley, top to bottom, can fog over for several days at a time, while the front range is sunny. Geographic diversity outside the valley is necessary to cope with these situations.
Further, the projects as proposed would require an expensive and controversial transmission line. XCEL Energy recently slashed rooftop solar rebates, deepening its focus on large, remote projects.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a citizens' alternative should be considered in the process. Such an alternative should consider BLM areas in Colorado outside the San Luis Valley.
Submit your comments here, or schedule to speak at the March 7 meeting:
BLM Comment Site - Until March 17
From Salida, Colorado's newspaper, the Mountain Mail:
Solar energy meetings begin March 7 in Alamosa
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu recently announced a schedule of public meetings to gather comments on a comprehensive environmental study that identifies public lands suitable for utility-scale solar energy production.
One of the meetings is scheduled March 7 at the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center Education and Conference Center, 1921 Main St. in Alamosa.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. with the meeting beginning at 7 p.m. and continuing until everyone who wishes to speak has been heard.