Interior Department Approves First Solar Energy Projects on Public Land

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The Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project, located in San Bernardino County, Calif., will use photovoltaic panels to generate 45 megawatts of electricity — enough to power up to 33,750 homes.

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved on Oct. 5 the first large-scale solar energy plants to be built on U.S. public lands. The approval of two developments in California grants the U.S.-based companies behind the projects access to almost 6,800 acres of public land for 30 years to build and operate solar plants. The approved plants could produce up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power 226,000 to 566,000 typical U.S. homes. The projects will generate almost 1,000 new jobs.

The DOI-approved proposals will employ two different types of solar energy technology. The Imperial Valley Solar Project, proposed by Tessera Solar, will use Stirling Energy System’s SunCatcher technology on 6,360 acres of public lands in California’s Imperial County. The plant, featuring 28,360 solar dishes, is expected to produce up to 709 megawatts — enough to power 212,700 to 531,750 homes. The Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project, proposed by Chevron Energy Solutions of California, will employ solar photovoltaic technology on 422 acres of public lands in San Bernardino County. With 40,500 solar panels, it will produce up to 45 megawatts — enough to power 13,500 to 33,750 homes.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s payment for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program makes Tessera and Chevron eligible for approximately $273 million and $31 million, respectively. The two projects are the first in a series of renewable energy projects on public land under final review by the DOI that would provide thousands of U.S. jobs and advance U.S. clean energy technologies. In April 2009, the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management committed to helping the United States reach its clean energy future by using a “fast track” program to help projects expedite approval. Each project has undergone thorough environmental review.

Other California projects are on the immediate horizon, as well.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) approved on Sept. 8 the construction of the Abengoa Mojave Solar Project, a 250-megawatt facility planned for San Bernardino County. The solar thermal facility will use parabolic mirrors to collect the sun’s heat and convert it to electricity. Construction is slated to begin this year, with commercial service by early 2013.

The CEC also recently approved several concentrating solar power projects that await DOI approval, including the 1,000-megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project, a parabolic trough facility that would be the world’s largest concentrating solar power plant; the 250-megawatt Genesis Solar Energy Project, which would also employ parabolic troughs; and the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, which would be the first large-scale deployment of solar power towers in the United States.

Reprinted from EERE Network News, a free newsletter from the U.S. Department of Energy.