July 8, 2008

BLM Lifts Moratorium on Large Solar Projects

By Matt Hildner, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

Jul. 8--ALAMOSA -- The Bureau of Land Management lifted its moratorium on applications for utility-scale solar projects last week, but how the move will affect Colorado's one potential project on federal public land remains to be seen.

Jim Sample, a spokesman for the state BLM office in Lakewood, said the agency had not been in touch with California-based OptiSolar since the moratorium was lifted Wednesday.

OptiSolar had started an application for right of way on 2,200 acres of BLM land at the north end of the San Luis Valley near Saguache. Sample said Monday the application remained incomplete.

The company did not return calls last week or Monday seeking comment for this story.

The BLM initiated the moratorium at the end of May in conjunction with the start of an environmental impact statement that would examine the impacts of solar plant development on agency land in six Western states, including Colorado. The moratorium prompted criticism at agency meetings around the West in June. It also drew warnings from a number of politicians, including U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that the delay would slow development of the solar industry.

"We heard the concerns expressed during the scoping period about waiting to consider new applications and we are taking action," BLM Director James Caswell said in a statement last week.

The BLM manages 521,000 acres in the valley, which has been rated as one of two spots in the state that could support utility-scale solar plants. The other location with similar potential is in southeastern Pueblo County.


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