Proposed solar energy zone will be win-win
It looks as if Yuma County is on track to gain more acreage for solar-power projects.
The Bureau of Land Management is considering designating a 2,550-acre site near Agua Caliente as a solar energy zone, in an effort to speed up renewable-energy projects.
Yuma County has an abundance of sunshine – in fact, we have over 350 days of it a year.
And, we have an abundance of undeveloped desert space, much of which is held by the government. According to the Yuma County 2020 Comprehensive Plan, only 8.88 percent of land is privately owned, while the state of Arizona owns almost 6 percent.
However, the federal government owns a staggering 80 percent of the land here. That land is split between military use (Yuma Proving Ground and the Barry M. Goldwater Range) and wildlife refuges (Kofa and Cabeza Prieta), while a small portion (10 percent) is managed by the BLM.
In the short term, solar projects have some benefit here, providing jobs during the construction phase, which is a direct boost to our economy.
For example, the First Solar project, which is already under construction near Dateland and Hyder, is a slightly smaller site, at 2,400 acres. That site employs a daily average of 400 to 450 workers during the construction phase, a strong boost to our economy at a time when we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
In the long term, solar-generated power has benefits too, as an eco-friendly power resource not reliant on fossil fuels. This proposed project in Yuma County could generate enough electricity to power as many as 6,000 homes, according to Dennis Godfrey, a BLM spokesman.
Opponents say solar projects render the acreage useless for other projects, and there's some truth to that. However, the proposed BLM land is already sitting unused – it's not detracting from either the military or agriculture, two of our biggest economic drivers.
Others have raised concerns of an aesthetic nature, pointing out that acres and acres of solar panels are not necessarily attractive to the eye.
However, it makes sense to take advantage of our best natural resource – sunshine. Projects such as this one will bring much-needed jobs to the Yuma area while harnessing energy from a renewable resource.
It's a win-win situation for Yuma County.