U.S. solar plan creates energy zones, excludes sensitive lands

The Obama administration unveiled plans Tuesday to ramp up solar energy production, offering incentives for solar developers to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of federal land in the western U.S and opening an additional 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert for new power plants.

The long-awaited plan also appears to rewind previous land-use decisions by the federal government. The pending policy rules out a long list of environmentally sensitive lands where the government — seeking to fast-track construction — had allowed solar development over the objections of environmentalists.

The plan places 445 square miles of public land in play for utility-scale solar facilities.

The plan establishes 17 solar energy zones in six Western states, including 154,000 acres in California. The zones were chosen because they avoided major environmental, cultural or other conflicts. The policy encourages developers to select sites within zones by promising minimal environmental reviews and expedited permitting.

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