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Feds look to expand solar development on Western public lands

Officials from Arizona-based First Solar and a New Mexico power company gather after the dedication of a new solar array in Albuquerque in April.
Susan Montoya Bryan
Officials from Arizona-based First Solar and a New Mexico power company gather after the dedication of a new solar array in Albuquerque.

News brief: 

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced plans last week to accelerate solar development on public lands in the Mountain West. The efforts build on the Biden administration’s goal to support more renewable energy projects.

The plan specifically updates an Obama-era strategy for utility-scale energy development in the Southwest. It identified areas with high solar potential in six states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. During the Western Governors’ Association’s annual meeting last week, Haaland said a lot has changed since then.

“We've learned a lot since that blueprint was first completed more than a decade ago, and technologies have improved,” Haaland said.

Now, the federal government may expand its plan to include more states, potentially supporting solar development in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Haaland said the agency may also remove some regulatory barriers to solar development on federal lands, so long as future sites don’t create conflicts with other natural or cultural resources.

“A sustainable, clean energy economy isn't just an idea,” she said. “It's here. It's happening.”

The federal government owns almost half the land in the West, offering a major opportunity for renewable expansion. Haaland initially announced the plan while touring a solar site under construction in Arizona, which is expected to power more than 90,000 homes and provide 500 jobs.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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