The largest solar farm on American federal public land was dedicated on Monday in California’s Riverside County desert, a project the state hopes will help it meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.
The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm — a 550-megawatt farm that is also one of the largest solar plants in the world — began operating in December 2014, but Monday marked the day it was officially dedicated by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Jewell said the project can provide enough energy to power more than 160,000 average California homes every year — a huge help for the state in meeting its goal to increase its renewable electricity use to 50 percent by 2030.
“This is the beginnings of a renewable energy future,” Jewell said at the dedication. “Renewable energy where the source of the energy never goes away, where we don’t have to emit any carbon into the atmosphere.”
Built and operated by First Solar, the Desert Sunlight Farm sits on about 3,600 acres of federal land. It is partly a product of the U.S. Department of Energy, which reportedly gave the project about $1.5 billion in loan guarantees. In a report also released Monday, the DOE said that it has so far provided $4.6 billion in loan guarantees to support large solar projects in the U.S.
California Gov. Jerry Brown set the state’s ambitious goal to have 50 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2030 last month, after noting that utilities were already on track to meet the state’s previous goal to have 33 percent renewable electricity by 2020. Brown told the L.A. Times that utilities needed more incentive to keep signing new contracts with large wind and solar firms, which is why he upped the goal.
“Many thought the initial 33 percent goal was too challenging, yet California will readily surpass that number,” Martín Múgica, president of Iberdrola Renewables, which is developing wind and solar projects in the state, told the Times. “The governor’s plan will spark innovation across the electricity sector and clearly encourage large-scale renewable energy development.”