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 Department of Interior today announced final approval of twolarge solar energy projects in southern California that will produce 754 megawatts of clean renewable energy to power more than a quartermillion homes and create almost 300 permanent jobs and about 700construction 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 twosolar projects ever approved for federal lands in the U.S. And more arecoming in the next few months as the federal Bureau of Land Management(BLM) expedites approvals for other projects in time to secure fundingunder the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The California Energy Commission is also rapidly approving new projects, some on BLM land and some onprivate property. Since July, the two agencies have given final orpreliminary approval to nine large solar projects that together willbring more than 4,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power on-line incoming 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 issuedrecords 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 Salazarsaid in a conference call with media announcing the approvals. “We haveopened up a new chapter on renewble energy.”
The Imperial Valley project will use more than 6,300 acres of BLMland, a somewhat smaller footprint than originally planned. Thereduction, and Tessera’s acquisition of another 6,600 acres forconservation purposes, followed negotiations with conservation groupsand other parties to reduce the project’s environmental impacts.
Under ARRA, the two projects can apply for federal payments in lieuof 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 towardachieving a 33% renewable energy standard by 2020, when it wil requireup to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy.
Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with CAP’s Energy Opportunity Team.