Intelligent Energy

Public lands and renewable energy: 25 projects and counting

Public lands and renewable energy: 25 projects and counting

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The Interior Department has OK'd two utility-scale solar and wind projects, capping a three-year effort to develop renewable energy on public land. But that doesn't mean they'll ever be built.

The Interior Department has approved two large-scale renewable energy projects, capping off a three-year campaign to use public lands for solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power plants. When built, these two projects -- a solar installation in Arizona and a wind farm in California -- will generate nearly 500 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 150,000 homes, the DOI said today in a statement and during a media call.

Since launching its "fast-track" approval effort, the Interior Department has OK'd 25 major renewable energy projects for public lands. When constructed the projects are expected to produce nearly 6,200 megawatts of energy, enough to power 2.2 million U.S. homes, the DOI said.

The DOI approval is just one of many permits and other regulations power plant developers must meet before their projects can be built. Not to mention considerable other hurdles including financing and finding that increasingly elusive transmission capacity. In other words, a DOI thumbs up doesn't mean the project will ever be built. For instance, the DOI approved last year the Tessera Solar's Imperial Valley Solar Project. The solar project was supposed to have large Suncatcher dished lined with high-efficiency mirrors to track the sun's movement.

The project was sold to AES Solar in Febraury 2011 and its new owners decided to switch to photovoltaic solar. Now it's not clear if the project will ever be built because San Diego Gas & Electric has terminated its power purchase agreement with AES.

Some details on the two recently approved renewable energy projects:

Sonoran Solar Energy Project

  • 300-megawatt photovoltaic solar project;
  • Built in Maricopa County, Arizona, south of Phoenix.
  • Generate enough electricity to power 90,000 homes (although earlier records state the figure is 59,000 homes);
  • Developed by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources;
  • Expected to create more than 374 construction and maintenance jobs;
  • NextEra originally proposed this as a concentrated solar thermal plant that would have generated 375 megawatts of electricity, but was changed to PV over concerns about the amount of water use, changes in technology and cost.

Tule Wind Project

  • 186-megawatt wind project located east of San Diego;
  • Developed and owned by Spain's Iberdrola Renewables;
  • Produce enough electricity to power up to 65,000 homes;
  • Will be built on 12,360 acres of public lands. Other portions of the project have been proposed on Ewiiaapaayp Trival, state of California and private lands.
  • Expected to create 337 jobs.

Photo: Solar project on BLM land from the USGS

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure