Grid Extension For PV Plant Gets Go-Ahead

California has committed to generating one-third of its electricity (15,000-20,000 megawatts) from renewable resources by 2020. The state has already demonstrated that its dominant strategy for meeting this goal will require constructing large-scale solar power plants in its vast desert backyard. Therefore, delivering power from the California desert to homes and businesses in its population centers is key to meeting this goal.

A recent Obama administration announcement is the latest in a series of solar, wind, geothermal and transmission projects approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) this year. DOI Secretary Ken Salazar backed a five-mile transmission line on 65 acres of public lands that will connect the 250-megawatt (MW) Imperial Solar Energy West thin-film photovoltaic (PV) project, in Imperial, Calif., to the grid. The project was one of 19 priorities listed for approval by the agency in 2011.

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The above-ground transmission line will be built on DOI-managed lands in an area already designated as a transmission corridor. The solar project itself will be constructed on private, fallowed farm lands near El Centro. Once constructed, the plant will generate enough electricity to power more than 75,000 homes.

According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the project has already received extensive environmental review and mitigation measures. In light of pending lawsuits surrounding the BLM’s approval process for large-scale solar energy projects in the California desert, the agency said it made an effort in this case to coordinate its plans with American Indian communities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other stakeholders to avoid, minimize and compensate for the project’s potential adverse impacts. For example, the project developer is required to set aside 82 acres of suitable wildlife habitat for the flat-tailed horned lizard and to install temporary fencing around proposed impact areas.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).