Interior finalizes Ariz. solar energy plan

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finalized a plan Friday that sets aside 192,100 acres of public land in Arizona for solar energy.

“This project is a key milestone in our work to spur smart development of solar and wind energy on public lands across the West. Arizona has huge potential when it comes to building a clean energy economy, and this landscape-level plan lays a solid foundation for making sure that it happens in the right way and in the right places,” Salazar said in a Friday statement.

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The plan also established the 2,250-acre Agua Caliente Solar Energy Zone, which is part of an Obama administration initiative to fast-track solar projects in six Western states.

Salazar, who announced Wednesday that he would step down in March, has helped usher in an expansion of solar and wind energy on public lands.

Under Salazar’s watch, the White House has approved 34 renewable energy projects on public lands, Interior said. In all, those endeavors could yield 10,400 megawatts of power.

While Salazar has been a friend to renewable energy, he and the oil-and-gas industry often locked horns.

Notably, the administration and Salazar imposed a six-month Gulf of Mexico drilling freeze in response to BP’s 2010 oil spill. That decision riled Republicans and industry, which said the move was too aggressive.

Salazar also has taken heat from industry and Republicans not opening up more federal lands to fossil fuel drilling.