The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) will serve as a proving ground for cutting-edge solar technologies, such as concentrating solar thermal power and concentrating photovoltaic energy.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the Department’s intent to fund up to $50 million to test and demonstrate innovative technologies that will lead to cost-competitive solar energy technologies.

The Obama administration on Thursday proposed special energy zones on public lands in six western states deemed good locations to build utility-scale facilities to produce electricity from solar power.

The Interior Department issued a draft environmental impact statement that looked at the effect of solar energy projects able to generate 20 megawatts of power in areas that have the highest solar potential and will do the least harm to the environment.

"As stewards of our public lands, we must make sure that we are developing renewable energy in the right way and in the right places," Salazar told reporters. The western states targeted with 24 solar energy zones were Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

Bob Abbey, who heads the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, the agency that will review any specific solar projects, said the amount of electricity that could be generated by the sun on all BLM lands in the six states, including, the designated energy zones could total 24,000 megawatts over 20 years. The department does not have an estimate for solar generation just on the designated energy zones.

"For years, the oil and gas industries have had an easy path for getting permits to drill on public lands. With today’s announcement, solar energy projects are now closer to a more predictable review and approval process for projects on public lands," said Rhone Resch, president of Solar Energy Industries Association.

The proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days and the department expects to issue a final report during the fall of 2011, said Salazar. The solar energy zones will help meet President Barack Obama’s goal to double the amount of U.S. electricity generated by renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal.

The department’s energy zone proposal comes a day after the U.S. Senate approved extending a Treasury Department program through next year that gives companies a rebate equal to 30 percent of the cost of their solar or wind energy projects. To be successful, Salazar said solar projects in the six western states will need access to transmission lines.

Federal regulators proposed last month reforms to make the U.S. electric grid more accessible to electricity generated by renewable energy sources, which should lower costs for consumers who want to buy clean power. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed a rule requiring public utility transmission providers to allow renewable power producers to schedule their shipments of electricity over shorter time periods to better reflect the moment-to-moment changes in generation output by renewables.

Solar and wind power producers would be able to schedule transmission service in 15-minute intervals, instead of the current one-hour scheduling procedure.

The demonstration program will be a critical link between the Department of Energy’s advanced technology development programs and full-scale commercialization efforts. The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) will serve as a proving ground for cutting-edge solar technologies, such as concentrating solar thermal power and concentrating photovoltaic energy, which can be used for utility applications in the Southwestern United States where there is an abundance of solar energy.

"This funding will allow the Department to further test advanced and innovative solar energy technologies in real-world conditions, providing critical data for companies and communities looking to invest in large-scale solar projects," said Secretary Chu. "The Solar Demonstration Zone in Nevada is part of an integrated effort to expand the solar energy industry, helping to put America on a path to a sustainable energy future and create the jobs of the 21st century economy."

The Department expects to announce the Funding Opportunity Announcement early next year. Potential technology applications include Concentrated Solar Power systems that use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight on a heat absorbing fluid, convert it to steam, and ultimately generate electricity, as well as Concentrated Photovoltaic Power that uses lenses to concentrate sunlight to improve the efficiency of conventional photovoltaics.

The demonstration projects as part of the Solar Demonstration Zone will be deployed at a large enough scale to provide useful operating and economic data for the eventual deployment of solar energy projects at utility-scale, which are typically grid-connected projects larger than 20 megawatts.

The Solar Demonstration Zone at the Nevada National Security Site will complement the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management’s 24 Solar Energy Study Areas (SESAs) on public lands across the Southwest United States by providing essential data about the commercial viability of the most advanced solar technologies.

As part of DOE and the Department of Interior’s continuing collaboration, the Departments are working together to implement this project, including conducting environmental reviews and coordinating necessary infrastructure planning for the site. Department of Energy funding for the project is dependent upon congressional appropriations. The full Notice of Intent is available on FedConnect.net by searching under Reference Number DE-FOA-0000233.

www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy/renewable_energy.html