Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Interior Dept. Approves 11 Square Miles of Solar Projects on Public Lands in So-Cal

A posting from "msnbc staff and news service reports" (covered by others in the hours since) touts a significant step forward in the effort to harness solar energy to power homes. If things go well, several similar projects also plan to start up in the coming months. Excerpts follow:

After five years of negotiations and battles, some of them environmental, two large solar power projects on Tuesday got the first-ever green lights to set up shop on federal lands.

"These projects are milestones in our focused effort to rapidly and responsibly capture renewable energy resources on public lands," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement announcing the approvals in desert areas of Southern California.

One includes a square mile of solar panels near Victorville in inland Southern California, and the other covers about 10 square miles in the remote Imperial Valley, east of San Diego.

The announcement comes about five years after solar developers began asking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for rights to develop hundreds of solar plants on federally owned desert land across the Southwest.

Expected to cost around $2 billion, the largest of the two projects will use 28,360 solar collectors known as SunCatchers to produce enough electricity to power more than 200,000 homes.

The approvals give the project sponsors access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years.

Construction is expected to start on both by the end of the year, and Interior said the projects should generate almost 1,000 jobs.

The two approvals are:

  • The Imperial Valley Solar Project, by Tessera Solar of Arizona and based in Imperial County, Calif., is expected to produce up to 709 megawatts from 28,360 solar dishes, enough to power at least 200,000 homes.

  • The Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project will use photovoltaic solar technology in San Bernardino County, Calif., and will produce up to 45 megawatts from 40,500 solar panels, enough to power at least 13,000 homes.
Interior said both are part of a "fast track" process that provides significant funding via the federal stimulus program if construction begins by the end of 2010.

"The Recovery Act’s payment for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program makes Tessera and Chevron eligible for approximately $273 million and $31 million, respectively," Interior stated.

Tuesday's approvals came shortly after California regulators passed rules requiring utilities to derive a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the most aggressive standards in the U.S.

The newly approved permit for sites in California were the first in a series Salazar expected to issue before the end of the year. Final approval by 2011 qualifies projects for federal stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Currently, solar developers have proposed facilities that would produce more than 6,000 megawatts, enough to power 4 million homes for a day at peak usage. The projects are proposed for about 23 million acres of federally owned desert in the Southwest.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state is on track to approve nine large solar plants by year's end.

"Our great partnership is helping to improve public health, grow our green economy, promote energy independence and strengthen our national security," the governor said in a statement.

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