This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

October 06, 2010

Interior Department Approves First Solar Energy Projects on Public Lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved on October 5 the first large-scale solar energy plants ever 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 lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants. The approved plants could produce up to 754 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy, or enough to power 226,000–566,000 typical U.S. homes. The projects will generate almost 1,000 new jobs.

Photo of an array of large mirrored dishes, each composed of hundreds of facets. Each dish has a metal arm protruding from the center, holding a metal box at the dish's focus.

Sixty SunCatcher solar dishes were recently installed in Peoria, Arizona, to form the 1.5-megawatt Maricopa Solar project. The newly approved Imperial Valley Solar Project will be nearly 500 times larger. Enlarge this image.
Credit: Salt River Project

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 MW, enough to power 212,700–531,750 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 13,500–33,750 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 lands under final review by the department that would provide thousands of U.S. jobs and advance U.S. clean energy technologies. In April of 2009, Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 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. See the DOI press release and the DOI fact sheets on the Imperial ValleyPDF and Chevron Lucerne ValleyPDF projects.

Other California projects are on the immediate horizon, too. The California Energy Commission (CEC) approved on September 8 the construction of the Abengoa Mojave Solar Project, a 250-MW facility planned for San Bernardino County. The solar thermal facility will use parabolic mirrors to collect the sun's heat and convert it into electricity. Construction is slated to begin this year, with commercial service by early 2013. The CEC has also recently approved several concentrating solar power (CSP) projects that await DOI approval, including the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project, a parabolic trough facility that would be the world's largest CSP power plant; the 250-MW Genesis Solar Energy Project, which will also employ parabolic troughs; and the 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, which will be the first large-scale deployment of solar power towers in the United States (eSolar deployed a 5-MW system in Southern California last year). See the CEC press releases on licensing the Abengoa Mojave, Blythe, Ivanpah, and Genesis projects; an article on the eSolar power tower from the EERE Network News, and a description of CSP technologies on DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Web site.