Feds Back New Wind, Solar In Southwest

Here’s a switch: Ken Salazar, the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), approved a big renewable energy project on federal lands in Southern California – but it wasn’t solar. Instead, it was the 186-megawatt (MW) capacity Tule Wind Project that Iberdrola Renewables is developing in eastern San Diego County.

Solar backers needn’t worry, however, that Salazar has forsaken the sun;  at the same time he green-lighted the Tule project, he approved the Sonoran Solar Energy Project southwest of Phoenix. This 300-MW PV project, proposed by NextEra Energy Resources, is the first utility-scale solar project on federal lands in Arizona to gain approval. According to the DOI, the original plan was to build a concentrated solar plant, but the government said that would use too much water – around 3,000 acre-feet per year. PV will trim that total to a mere 33 acre-feet.

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image via Shutterstock

In a statement, Salazar said the approvals brought to 25 the number of renewable energy projects the Obama administration has signed off on. “We have made steady and swift progress in carrying out President Obama’s initiative for a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of renewable energy on public lands,” Salazar said. “Together, these projects will produce the clean energy equivalent of nearly 18 coal-fired power plants, so what’s happening here is nothing short of a renewable energy revolution.”

The DOI and Iberdrola noted that the wind project’s path through the regulatory thicket was made easier by an Oct. 12, 2009, agreement between Salazar and then‐California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which outlined cooperation between the feds and the state “to create a federal‐state initiative to advance development of ‘environmentally appropriate’ renewable energy on U.S. lands in California. As with the Sonoran solar project, the approval process resulted in changes to the Tule plan, with the number of turbines reduced by more than half, from 128 to 62.

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.