First-Ever Solar Project To Generate Electricity On Public Lands Begins Delivering Power

By Jessica Goad

Yesterday the Silver State North Solar Project on the California border near Primm, Nevada began generating electricity. It is the first-ever solar project sited on public lands to be completed and produce power.

The 50-megawatt project, which was developed by First Solar and owned by Enbridge, will power approximately 9,000 homes. It employed 380 workers at peak construction, just a portion of Nevada’s 17,254 jobs in green goods and services.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar described the significance of the project in a dedication ceremony:

… a landmark for America, a landmark for the solar industry and a landmark for how we use public lands.

The Silver State project is also notable because the company worked with stakeholders to avoid places unfit for industrial energy development. It is close to existing transmission lines and the size of the project’s footprint was reduced in order to minimize impacts on wildlife and the landscape. As the Nevada Wilderness Project wrote on its blog:

In the case of Silver State North, we dubbed this 600-acre project 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas “smart” because the developer was willing to gather environmental input early on to avoid complications during the formal review process. From where we sat at the review table, that was a good sign.

Currently there are a handful of wind and geothermal project sited on public lands that are operational. But until today, there were no solar energy projects producing power. The Interior Department has permitted 15 other solar energy projects that are in various states of construction, financing and permitting.

The Obama administration has permitted more renewable energy projects on public lands than all other administrations combined.  It is also in the process of finalizing a landmark set of guidelines that guide solar energy development into specially-designated zones, a new and improved model for energy development on public lands.

Jessica Goad is Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.

8 Responses to First-Ever Solar Project To Generate Electricity On Public Lands Begins Delivering Power

  1. Leif says:

    As an aside observation. Given that this site will cover ~3/4 of the given area with solar arrays I would assume that the remaining area will get ~3 times the annual rain-fall from the run-off and might even start a new ecosystem with green and shade where only sun baked down in the past. It that viable thinking?

  2. Mike Franklin says:

    In general, 9,000 modern homes situated on approx 1/4 acre per (mainly subdivisions), occupy a little over 2,200 acres. In sum, this plant uses the same space as roughly 2,400 homes with a supply-to-area ratio of about 4-to-1.

    In contrast, a natural gas plant generating enough power for 30,000 homes can be built on less than 100 acres of land…

    This is NOT a rant in favor of fossil fuels but, I think we should devote more effort to getting more our of the sun. There is enough energy in sunlight each day to power every city on earth for almost a year!

    Thanks but… we gotta do better. We have too much technology to stay captive to the vaseline jar forever.

  3. Sounds like well thought out forward thinking to me. Let’ hope someone is considering this fact.

  4. Artful Dodger says:

    Hi Lief. The remaining land area will be in shade, so not productive for agriculture. A secondary consideration is the dust generated by planting and harvesting operations, which are a problem for the solar cells. Extra water (and more) will be needed to keep the solar panels clean.

  5. otter17 says:

    Cool! I see about one grid inverter being shipped from my company’s loading dock every day, headed eventually towards the Silver State site. As an engineer, I helped troubleshoot that particular inverter model for a time.

    They will be a reliable means for converting the DC from the solar panels to 60 Hz AC for the grid.

  6. Leif says:

    I was not thinking of agriculture but wild grasses and perhaps a few lizards and such. I agree that most will be shaded but light is still available. Some grass will grow even on the north side of mountains and rocks that never see the sun. I cannot believe that the array will be cleaned with water anyway. Most likely high pressure air with perhaps high humidity water at worst.Perhaps self cleaning glass.

  7. Spike says:

    A new large wind farm onshore gets the go ahead in the UK

    The Guardian also reports on the Stink tanks opposing wind in the US

  8. Dave says:

    @Mike, You make a good point mike And I don’t mean about the nat gas plant I mean the acreage the 9000 homes sits on being comparable. Perhaps if they just put the Panels on all of the 9000 homes and grow some tomatoes where they are now. I mean why do we need Solar Farms when we can just make every new home built self sustaining and phase in all other homes over the next 30 years?? Is it because no one will profit? Besides Nat Gas fracking destroys the environement i.e.Fresh water aquafirs among others.