Fifth Solar Plant On U.S. Land Approved

The parade of solar projects on U.S. public lands continues, with Tessera Solar’s 663.5 megawatt (MW) Calico plant outside Barstow, Calif., now becoming the fifth ever to gain approval — all this month. In announcing the move by Secretary Ken Salazar, the Interior Department said the five projects together will generate more than “1,800 MW of renewable energy, or enough to power 550,000 to 1.4 million homes.”

Calico is cut out of the mold of one of the earlier-approved installations, the big one at Imperial Valley: The contractor is Tessera, and it will use Stirling Energy Systems’ SunCatcher solar dish technology. The power produced is bound for Southern California Edison.

image via Stirling Energy Systems

An Interior Department fact sheet said 400 jobs will be created in building the Calico plant, and that it will sustain 136 permanent jobs after completion. Taxpayers are footing a part of the bill here, of course: Tessera is expected to get $1.75 billion in loan guarantees from the federal government, and then to be repaid 30 percent of its costs, or $600 million, all through the Recovery Act.

As with previous projects, Salazar, perhaps fearful of being mistaken for a rubber stamp, noted that the approval process had reduced the project’s scope. In Calico’s case, it dropped from 8,230 acres to 4,604. As a result, the department said, the number of  desert tortoises affected by the Calico installation would be 22, down from the original 107. Some environmentalists, at least, were not impressed.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.