11 September 2012
The lazy days of summer haven’t been so lazy for the US federal government, which has recently given the green light to several solar projects on federal lands and developed a roadmap for future large-scale solar development in the West.
And while large-scale renewable energy projects often pit usual political allies against each other, such as preservationists opposing solar projects or wildlife activists fighting wind turbines, recent policy developments show we can promote energy independence with minimal environmental disruption.
Renewable energy development on federal lands is essential to reaching our national clean energy goals.
“Renewable energy development on federal lands is essential to reaching our national clean energy goals,” said Arthur L. Haubenstock, vice president of regulatory affairs at Brightsource Energy, in response to the Departments of the Interior and Energy final plan for solar energy development on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
The plan, called the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, included input from solar companies, utilities, clean-energy advocates and environmental groups.
“The BLM Solar plan demonstrates that we as Americans don’t have to choose between clean alternative energy and a healthy environment,” said Mike Daulton, vice president for public affairs at Audubon. “We can have the future we want: one where we enjoy a healthy climate, and where birds and other wildlife thrive.”
Additionally, in early August US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop about 1GW of renewable energy projects on public lands. The MOU includes a pilot process for authorizing solar energy projects on several military installations withdrawn for defense-related purposes in Arizona and California. Some 13 million acres of these withdrawn lands are located in the western states, which have an abundance of solar energy potential.
Since 2009, the Department of Interior has approved 17 utility-scale solar energy projects.
“We are making millions of acres of public lands and offshore areas available that have the greatest potential for utility-scale solar and wind projects and the fewest resource conflicts,” said Salazar, who announced the agreement on the eve of the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0.
Also this month, President Obama announced that the government would expedite seven private solar and wind projects on federal lands in Arizona, California, Nevada and Wyoming. In total, these will produce about 5000MW of clean energy and include the following five solar projects:
- Solar Reserve’s Quartzsite Solar Energy project in Arizona. The 100MW concentrating solar power (CSP) plant would be located on approximately 1675 acres of BLM land. Its target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2012.
- EDF Renewable Energy’s Desert Harvest Solar Energy project in California. This PV plant, formerly an enXco project, would produce about 150MW of solar energy on approximately 1200 acres in Riverside County, California. Its target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2012.
- NextEra Energy Resources’ McCoy Solar Energy project in California. This 750MW PV array would sit on 4893 acres in Riverside County, California. Its target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2012.
- RES Americas’ Moapa Solar Energy Center in Nevada. This solar project is being developed in cooperation with the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians on a 2000-acre site on the Moapa River Indian Reservation and on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Clark County, Nevada. The 200MW project would employ 100MW of PV technology and 100MW of CSP technology. Once constructed, this proposed project would be one of the first large-scale solar projects on tribal lands in the US. Its target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2013.
- First Solar’s Silver State South project in Nevada. This 350MW PV plant on 13,043 acres has a target date for completing federal permit and review decisions of March 2013. RES has completed construction on its 50MW Silver State North project, making it the first solar project on public lands to be delivering power to the grid.
When President Obama took office, there were no solar projects permitted on public lands. Since 2009, the Department of Interior has approved 17 utility-scale solar energy projects that, when built, will produce more than 5,900MW of energy. That’s enough to power approximately 1.8 million American homes.
It’s a major step forward, reducing dependence on foreign energy sources and working to prevent climate change, all by taking advantage of a renewable resource in our own, collective sunny backyard.
Written by Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, News Editor, Solar Novus Today