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Citing environmental concerns, US freezes new solar plant construction

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(Read caption) Photovoltaic solar panels in Hesperia, Calif.

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The New York Times reports that the Bureau of Land Management has placed a two-year moratorium on new solar projects on public land, saying that it needs to study their environmental impact.

The decision, reached late last month, could threaten the nation's fledgling solar industry, which may be forced to turn to more expensive private land on which to construct plants. In recent years, many solar companies have been seeking leases on federal land, the Times reports:

Much of the 119 million surface acres of federally administered land in the West is ideal for solar energy, particularly in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California, where sunlight drenches vast, flat desert tracts.
Galvanized by the national demand for clean energy development, solar companies have filed more than 130 proposals with the Bureau of Land Management since 2005. They center on the companies’ desires to lease public land to build solar plants and then sell the energy to utilities.
According to the bureau, the applications, which cover more than one million acres, are for projects that have the potential to power more than 20 million homes.

According to the bureau, the environmental impact study will require investigating how plant construction and transmission lines will affect vegetation and wildlife, as well as water use.

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