Six western states named solar-energy hotbeds

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    Arizona Public Service and Starwood Energy Group Global last month announced plans for 290-megawatt concentrating solar plant in Arizona. Much of the West's prime private land for large solar farms has already been snapped up.
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In a step sure to please clean-energy investors, the US Interior Department Monday said it would designate more than 1,000 square miles of federal land in the sunbaked West as zones for potential solar-energy production.

The move removes a bureaucratic roadblock within the Interior Department, which had been overwhelmed by applications to build utility-scale solar plants. By identifying 24 zones across six Western states with lots of sun and few environmental risks, the Obama administration is hoping to speed up development of such alternative-energy projects.

The move also helps open up federal land to new companies at a time when the rights to develop solar power on the best private land in the West already have been snapped up by big players, said Matthew Patsky, portfolio manager of Winslow Management Company, in a telephone interview. "There's a lot of [private] land that is really well situated that has been aggregated and the rights to it have been accumulated over time."

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The three biggest players, he said, are investment-manager Goldman Sachs, the utility Florida Power & Light, and solar-energy manufacturer First Solar.

By offering government land at, presumably, rock bottom lease rates, the administration can offer development opportunities to other companies and push forward its clean-energy agenda. President Obama has said he wants to double production from renewable energy within three years.

The solar farms envisioned would probably use various technologies, Mr. Patsky said, from traditional photovoltaic panels that directly convert sunlight into electricity to concentrating solar power, which produces steam to power large turbines. The six states with new designated energy zones are Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

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