First-Ever Solar-Energy Projects on Public Lands Given Greenlight

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the first large-scale solar-energy plants ever to be built on public lands. The projects, both located in California, are the first in a series of renewable-energy projects on public lands under final review by the Department of the Interior that would provide thousands of U.S. jobs and advance U.S. clean-energy technologies.

“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.”

Salazar’s approval grants the U.S.-based companies access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants that could produce up to 754 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy. The projects will generate almost 1,000 new jobs.

In April 2009, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) guaranteed coordinated processing, full environmental analysis and public review for renewable-energy projects where the companies involved demonstrated they were ready to advance to the formal environmental review and public participation process.

The projects Salazar approved will employ two different types of solar-energy technology. The Imperial Valley Solar Project, proposed by Tessera Solar of Texas, will use Stirling Energy System’s SunCatcher technology on 6,360 acres of public lands in Imperial County. The plant is expected to produce up to 709 MW from 28,360 solar dishes.

The Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project, proposed by Chevron Energy Solutions of California, will employ photo-voltaic solar technology on 422 acres of public lands in San Bernardino County and will produce up to 45 MW from 40,500 solar panels.

“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 1 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.”

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