The California solar gold rush we’ve been writing about of late got one of its first major federal shots in the arm yesterday as the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved plans for the first two ever large scale solar plants to be built on public lands. These are the 709-megwatt (MW) capacity Imperial Valley Solar Project and the smaller 45 MW Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project.
Much was made by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and his Department around these approvals. They are heralded as being the first “in a series of renewable energy projects on public lands under final review by the Department of the Interior that would provide thousands of U.S. jobs and advance U.S. clean energy technologies.” Both projects will offer a total combined potential of up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power 226,000 – 566,000 typical American homes. They will also generate almost 1,000 new jobs.
The larger Imperial Valley project, which was already approved by the California Energy Commission just last week, will be managed by Tessera Solar, who said it will deliver power from this massive plant using solar dish technology to San Diego Gas & Electric via the 120 mile Sunrise Powerlink transmission line. This plant will be hosted on on 6,360 acres of public lands in Imperial County. Recovery Act dollars being used for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program will give Tessera approximately $273 million.
The smaller Chevron project, meanwhile, will employ photo-voltaic solar technology on 422 acres of public lands in San Bernardino County. Its Recovery Act share will total around $31 million. Both projects, which underwent thorough environmental reviews, had to have been approved by the DOI by year’s end and under construction in order to qualify for the Recovery Act funding.
“There are 11 million acres of public lands in the California Desert, and a large majority of those lands are managed for conservation purposes,” Salazar said in a statement. “These projects, while a significant commitment of public land, actually represent less than one-hundredth of one percent of that total area. Given the many benefits, the extensive mitigation measures, and the fair market value economic return, approval of these projects is clearly in the public interest.”
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