US hosts first auction to develop solar energy on public lands

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is hosting the first competitive auction for public lands in two Solar Energy Zones in Colorado today.

The auction will award preference rights to submit a right-of-way application and a plan of development for commercial solar energy projects on three parcels of BLM-administered land, totaling 3,705 acres (1,499 hectares), in Conejos and Saguache counties in Colorado’s south-central San Luis Valley.

If fully developed, the two Colorado zones could produce about 400 MW, enough energy to power an estimated 125,000 homes.

The opening bid will be determined by the minimum bonus bid or the highest sealed bid, whichever is higher. The minimum bonus bid for each parcel is 5% of the rent value of the land for one year ($63 per acre for Saguache and Conejos counties) under the BLM’s interim solar rental policy. That calculation is based on the value of the interests acquired by the preferred applicant to file an application in a Solar Energy Zone. Minimum bonus bids for the three parcels are: De Tilla Gulch at $3,352; Los Mogotes East (north parcel): $4,035; and Los Mogotes East (south parcel): $4,284. The company with the winning bid will then submit a project proposal that will be subject to further environmental review and public comment.

"These Solar Energy Zones are part of our effort to make sure that we’re developing clean energy in the right places and in the right ways," said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. "Thursday¬ís competitive auction is an important milestone as we seek to accelerate the development of clean energy on our public lands that hold enormous potential for the solar power and for generating jobs and revenue for local communities."

The BLM auction is the result of a two-year planning effort by the Department of the Interior, which oversees the BLM, and the Department of Energy to pave the way for utility-scale solar energy development on public lands. The Western Solar Plan, approved in October 2012, created 17 Solar Energy Zones in six states that have the greatest potential for solar energy, fewest resource conflicts and access to existing or planned transmission. Since then, two additional zones have been established, one each in California and Arizona. The competitive bidding process is required for new solar development applications in Solar Energy Zones.

In addition to establishing the Western Solar Plan, the Department of the Interior has worked to launch other renewable energy endeavors on public lands, approving 47 projects since 2009, including more than 8 GW from 25 solar projects, 4.7 GW from 10 wind projects and about 600 MW from 12 geothermal projects.