The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced its first-ever competitive lease sale inside two designated solar energy zones in southern Colorado covering approximately 3,700 acres in the San Luis Valley. Once fully developed with solar projects, the two zones have the potential to produce 412 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 140,000 homes.

The move by BLM marks the agency’s first foray into actively developing any of the seventeen “solar energy zones” that stretch across the Southwest. BLM designated the zones last fall as well-suited for utility-scale solar energy development and has pledged to prioritize them for solar energy production, transmission and infrastructure development.

BLM Colorado State Director Helen Hankins noted that the competitive lease sale would “facilitate the Department’s priority approach to making appropriate public lands available for renewable energy development in the Solar Energy Zones and ensure a fair return to taxpayers for the commercial use of these lands.”

BLM will publish formal notice of the lease sale in the August 16, 2013 edition of Federal Register, kicking off a 60-day window ending October 15 for companies to submit sealed bids, which must be accompanied by a $48,169 administrative fee on each parcel.

An oral auction will be held October 24, 2013, opening with the minimum bonus bid or the highest sealed bid over the minimum bonus bid, whichever is higher. Winning bidders will have 180 days to file right-of-way applications and plans of development with BLM.

The competitive lease sale is the latest example of the Obama administration’s efforts to promote development of renewable energy projects – particularly on federal lands. As of today, 47 solar, wind and geothermal power plants have been approved on nearly 300,000 acres of federal land. If all are built, the projects will have the capacity to produce more than 13,300 MW of electricity, or enough to power 4.6 million homes.