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Solar's Day in the Sun in New Mexico

March 1, 2011

LAS CRUCES, N. M. - New Mexicans are invited to help make the call on whether solar energy development should stay "in the zone." The Department of Interior is holding a meeting Thursday evening in Las Cruces to listen to views on plans for solar projects on public lands. Judy Calman, staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, says the idea is to make sure that solar planning is done "smart from the start."

"When we've opened the West up to oil and gas drilling, the lack of good planning in that arena has really led to a lot of environmental destruction. And, while solar development is a lot better, we want to avoid those mistakes."

The plans on the table will set guidelines – where, what, when and how big – for solar projects on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Calman says the ideal solar zones are areas where conflicts with recreation, wildlife and the environment are expected to be minimal. A few such zones have already been identified near Las Cruces and Alamogordo.

Alex Daue, renewable energy coordinator with The Wilderness Society, says these large-scale solar projects are needed quickly to meet energy demands. But he says getting zones in place first is a good proposal from the BLM.

"They've identified a number of places across the state that have great solar resources, limited conflicts. By guiding projects to these zones, we can ensure that solar development on public lands is faster, cheaper and better."

In addition to the Solar Energy Zones identified in southern New Mexico, Calman says the BLM is also considering an option that includes opening up many more acres of public land to solar development.

"The problem with that alternative is, the solar energy zones that they've identified in New Mexico are enough to reach their solar energy goals for the state. Really, they don't have to open those other lands to solar development."

She says these extra lands outside the solar zones amount to 22 million more acres of potential solar development.

The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. on Thurs., Mar. 3, at the Hotel Encanto, 705 S. Telshor Blvd., Las Cruces.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM