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Citing environmental concerns, US freezes new solar plant construction

The New York Times reports that the Bureau of Land Management has placed a two-year moratorium on new solar projects on public land, saying that it needs to study their environmental impact.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / June 27, 2008

Photovoltaic solar panels in Hesperia, Calif.

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The New York Times reports that the Bureau of Land Management has placed a two-year moratorium on new solar projects on public land, saying that it needs to study their environmental impact.

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The decision, reached late last month, could threaten the nation's fledgling solar industry, which may be forced to turn to more expensive private land on which to construct plants. In recent years, many solar companies have been seeking leases on federal land, the Times reports:

Much of the 119 million surface acres of federally administered land in the West is ideal for solar energy, particularly in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California, where sunlight drenches vast, flat desert tracts.
Galvanized by the national demand for clean energy development, solar companies have filed more than 130 proposals with the Bureau of Land Management since 2005. They center on the companies’ desires to lease public land to build solar plants and then sell the energy to utilities.
According to the bureau, the applications, which cover more than one million acres, are for projects that have the potential to power more than 20 million homes.

According to the bureau, the environmental impact study will require investigating how plant construction and transmission lines will affect vegetation and wildlife, as well as water use.

Cameron Scott, a blogger for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes that he appreciates the government's caution, noting that such ecological prudence would have been useful before the country jumped into the ethanol business, but that he sees something of a double standard:

[T]he government rarely proceeds with caution when it comes to public lands. In the last couple years, the Bush administration has proposed allowing commerce, roads, off-road vehicles, and concealed weapons on public lands, and has eagerly embraced drilling for oil and natural gas. If fossil fuels warrant endangering these lands, then surely solar power does, too.
Is the Bush administration really so set against decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels that it would fabricate concern for the environment in order to block alternative energy projects? It would appear so.

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