SAN FRANCISCO -- Environmental groups are applauding the federal government's new plan setting aside 445 square miles of public land in the West for the development of large-scale solar power plants.
A Nature Conservancy official says the U.S. can develop renewable energy while protecting desert landscapes by building in areas that are more degraded.
The Interior Department will direct solar power development to land it has identified as having fewer wildlife and natural-resource obstacles and that is near power lines.
The 17 new "solar energy zones" will be established in six states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
The plan replaces the department's previous first-come, first-served system of approving solar projects. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the effort will help the U.S. stay competitive.