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First public auction for solar energy rights on federal lands draws no bids

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FILE: Aug. 3, 2011: Solar panels are seen at a solar farm in Avenal, Calif. (AP)

Federal officials are trying to figure out why the Bureau of Land Management's first-ever auction of public land for solar-energy development failed to attract any bids.

According to the Denver Post, no bidders showed up for the first auction for three parcels of land in Colorado's San Luis Valley, even though five solar development companies had expressed interest in the land.

Three parcels covering 3,700 acres in so-called solar-energy zones were offered on Thursday. The bureau has created 19 zones for large solar projects in six Western states, encompassing nearly 300,000 acres, the newspaper reported.

"We are going to have to regroup and figure out what didn't work," Maryanne Kurtinaitis, the renewable-energy program manager for the BLM's Colorado division, told the Denver Post. "It is always tough to be the first out of the chute. This is a learning experience."

Industry officials attributed the auction's failure to uncertainties about the solar energy market and federal regulations.

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries, told the Post that financing large-scale solar projects remains a challenge for the industry. 

"In this particular case, there's an added issue which may have prompted developers to take a pass on the Colorado lease sale," Johnson said. "The ground rules are still very much in question. To date, BLM has yet to finalize any regional mitigation plans. Frankly, it's not smart business to commit to something until you've read the fine print."

The Obama administration has made it a priority to promote solar energy development as part of its energy strategy. Since 2009, the Interior Department has approved 47 renewable energy projects on public lands, including 25 solar facilities, 10 wind farms and 12 geothermal plants.

 

Click here for more from the Denver Post.