From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published October 6, 2010 10:28 AM

US Department of Interior Allows First-Ever Solar Energy Projects on Public Lands

Yesterday, the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar approved the nation's first-ever large-scale solar energy plants to be built on public lands. Both plants, located in California, are first in a series of clean energy projects under final review by the Department of Interior (DOI) that are to be built on public lands. The California projects will have access to 6,800 acres that could produce up to 754 megawatts, enough to power up to 566,000 typical homes.

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"These projects are milestones in our focused effort to rapidly and responsibly capture renewable energy resources on public lands," Salazar said in signing the final Records of Decision for the initiatives. "These projects advance the President's agenda for stimulating investment in cutting-edge technology, creating jobs for American workers, and promoting clean energy for American homes, businesses and industry."

The larger of the projects which won DOI approval is the Imperial Valley Solar Project, proposed by Tessera Solar of Arizona. It will use what is known as SunCatcher technology, developed by Stirling Energy Systems. The SunCatcher is a solar dish that resemebles a typical satellite dish. The sunlight is reflected off the mirrored surface to a single point, where it is then converted in grid-quality electricity. Each dish has the capacity of about 25 kilowatts. The project is expected to generate up to 709 megawatts from 28,360 solar dishes spread across an area of 6,360 acres.

The second project is the Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar project, proposed by Chevron Energy Solutions of California. It will employ standard photo-voltaic technology on 422 acres of public land in San Bernadino County. The project is expected to produce up to 45 megawatts from 40,500 solar panels.

Both projects have undergone extensive environmental reviews, and the DOI states that the companies involved have made thorough efforts to minimize impacts on wildlife, water, and other natural resources. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is operating a compensation fund to ensure that impacts are mitigated. However, there are still hurdles to be overcome such as the necessary transmission line that must go through sensitive habitat areas.

Secretary Salazar believes that the environmental impacts do not warrant the projects to be delayed. "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. "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."

This move by the DOI, allowing the development of renewable energy resources on public lands, marks a monumental change from the way business was normally done. Previously, the only energy development on these lands was for fossil fuels. Thanks to funding aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the DOI's new commitment to renewable energy, the United States can expect to see many more of these types of projects across the country.

Photo: Stirling Energy Systems' SunCatcher Technology

For more info on the Tessera Solar Project: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=53658

For more info on the Chevron Energy Project: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=53663

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