The leading edge of a big solar energy wave is beginning to hit in the desert Southwest. CAP’s Tom Kenworthy has the story. The image, from susty.com, is a recreation of what one of the final arrays might look like.
The Department of Interior today announced final approval of two large solar energy projects in southern California that will produce 754 megawatts of clean renewable energy to power more than a quarter million homes and create almost 300 permanent jobs and about 700 construction jobs.
The Tessera Solar Imperial Valley Solar Project in Imperial County and the Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project in San Bernardino County that got the final go-ahead are the first two solar projects ever approved for federal lands in the U.S. And more are coming in the next few months as the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) expedites approvals for other projects in time to secure funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The California Energy Commission is also rapidly approving new projects, some on BLM land and some on private property. Since July, the two agencies have given final or preliminary approval to nine large solar projects that together will bring more than 4,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power on-line in coming years, enough to power about 1.2 million homes. They include the Blythe Solar Power Project in California’s Riverside County, at 1,000 megwatts the world’s largest solar project.
Tessara Solar’s project, the largest of the two that were issued records of decision under the BLM’s environmental impact study process, uses SunCatcher mirrors to concentrate solar energy, and has a capacity of 709 megawatts. Concentrated solar, at utility scale, is a core climate solution. The Chevron project, is a smaller, 45 megawatt conventional solar photovoltaic panel system.
“This is a historic day for America,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a conference call with media announcing the approvals. “We have opened up a new chapter on renewble energy.”
The Imperial Valley project will use more than 6,300 acres of BLM land, a somewhat smaller footprint than originally planned. The reduction, and Tessera’s acquisition of another 6,600 acres for conservation purposes, followed negotiations with conservation groups and other parties to reduce the project’s environmental impacts.
Under ARRA, the two projects can apply for federal payments in lieu of 30% tax credits, $273 million for the Imperial Valley project and $31 million for the Chevron project.
The two solar projects will help California make progress toward achieving a 33% renewable energy standard by 2020, when it wil require up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy.
Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with CAP’s Energy Opportunity Team.