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.