The Bureau of Land Management has nearly 160 active solar project applications, “with a projected capacity to generate 97,000 megawatts of electricity” — equal to nearly 30% of the nation’s household electrical consumption. Last week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced a series of initiatives to fast-track those projects. I am excerpting a post from guest blogger Craig Severance on what the BLM initatives might mean. At the end, he discusses a key low-carbon bridging technology, the “hybrid solar/natural gas” plant, which can provide fully dispatchable all-weather power available 24/7 with total generation costs of 7 to 8 cents per kWh. See also “Natural gas game changer, Part 3” and “Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload “” a core climate solution.”
Map of SW Solar Resources on BLM Lands. Source: BLM.
Measures announced Monday by the U.S. Department of the Interior identified initial solar project areas for the extremely sunny desert areas of the U.S. Southwest. These Solar Energy Study Areas could site utility-scale solar projects totaling 100,000 MegaWatts (MW) capacity. By comparison, the extremely successful U.S. wind energy industry had total installed capacity by the end of 1st Qtr 2009 equaling 28,206 MW, and “new nuclear power” Generation III+ nuclear plants installed worldwide to date equals zero MW.
Salazar, Reid announce BLM Plans to “Fast-Track” Solar. On Monday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, appearing in Las Vegas with Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), announced Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to move quickly on solar projects in the desert Southwest. Plans to “Fast-Track” solar include:
- Identification of 24 “Solar Study Areas” in 6 Western States, on land administered by the BLM. (Click here for detailed state-by-state maps of the Solar Study Areas.)
- In-depth evaluation of these 24 areas will begin immediately for their suitability for “large-scale solar energy production”.
- The 24 areas will be segregated from new mining claims and other actions initiated by third parties under public land laws. Existing claims will be honored. This segregation will allow solar resource plans to be evaluated and authorized first before conflicting new resource claims would be considered. The BLM noted that “most of the solar energy study areas are located in alluvial valleys are unlikely to contain significant mineral values”.
- 4 new BLM Renewable Energy Coordination Offices — in Nevada, California, Arizona, and Wyoming (which has major wind resources) will be opened to expedite processing of renewable project applications The NV office opened Monday.
- The BLM has already received applications for 158 SW solar projects. The new processes are expected to complete study area evaluations by the end of 2010, with construction of approved projects to begin thereafter.
Optimum Areas Selected. The announcement by Interior follows exactly two weeks after release on June 15th of the Western Governor’s Association “Western Renewable Energy Zones – Phase 1 Report”, a collaborative effort of the Western Governors, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the Interior Department, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. BLM’s “Solar Energy Study Areas” were clearly developed in concert with the Western Governor’s Association project.
The “Western Renewable Energy Zones” (WREZ’s) study was aimed at finding areas which had very concentrated, high-quality renewable energy resources. These “hub” areas would then be the logical places to construct renewable energy generation projects, and the transmission lines to serve them. In the WREZ study, public comments were taken from utilities, businesses, environmental and wildlife groups, local governments and citizens.
The Solar Energy Study Areas of BLM further selected only those areas with limited impacts on wildlife, other natural resources or other land users. (In other words, land where no one would care if you put a large solar farm.) This might seem to favor very remote areas. However, it is also very important to be close to existing or proposed transmission corridors, and be accessible by roads. The slope of the terrain was also considered in finding the most optimum areas.
Though a major effort, a map of the optimal Western Renewable Energy Zones was developed in just a year’s time, aided by consulting firm Black & Veatch. Below is the portion of the WREZ map covering the SW states, including solar WREZ areas (orange) identified: