Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has just approved the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, a 550-megawatt (MW) solar power project to be built in the California desert east of Palm Springs. The solar-photovoltaic facility will create more than 630 jobs at peak construction and infuse an estimated $336 million into the local economy. When built, Desert Sunlight will generate enough energy to power over 165,000 homes.
“The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is the largest photovoltaic facility Interior has approved thus far and, when built, will help power our nation and economy,” Secretary Salazar said. “With 12 large-scale solar projects approved in the last 18 months, we continue to make significant strides in spurring innovation, job-creation, and investment in the private sector while strengthening America’s energy security.”
The facility will use thin film photovoltaic (PV) technology, which generates electricity with low visual impact, no air emissions, waste production or water use, and has the smallest carbon footprint of any PV technology. An on-site substation and a 230-kiloVolt (kV) generation tie line will connect the project to the Red Bluff substation which will convert the power from 230 kV to 500kV for transmission on Southern California Edison’s regional grid.
There are several existing solar power plants in the Mojave Desert which supply power to the electricity grid. Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) is the name given to nine solar power plants in the Mojave Desert which were built in the 1980s. These plants have a combined capacity of 354 megawatts (MW) making them the largest solar power installation in the world. Nevada Solar One is a solar thermal plant with a 64 MW generating capacity, located near Boulder City, Nevada. The Copper Mountain Solar Facility is a 48 MW photovoltaic power plant in Boulder City, Nevada.
The Blythe Solar Power Project is a 968 MW solar thermal power station under construction in Riverside County, California. The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a 370 MW facility under construction which will consist of three separate solar thermal power plants. There are also plans to build other large solar plants in the Mojave Desert.
Insolation (solar radiation) in the Mojave Desert is among the best available in the United States, and some significant population centers are located in the area. These plants can generally be built in a few years because solar plants are built almost entirely with modular, readily available materials, although financing has been difficult and the projects typically receive government-backed financing.
In June, the U.S. Department of Energy granted Desert Sunlight a conditional commitment of a $1.88 billion loan guarantee. The project, about six miles north of the rural community of Desert Center, is expected to generate $336 million for the local economy from indirect benefits, including $197 million in wages. More than three quarters of the total impact will be occur during the construction period, with the remainder taking place over the project’s 25-year operating period. The project will also generate about $27 million in sales and property tax revenue to Riverside County.
The present decision authorizes the BLM to offer Desert Sunlight Holdings a right-of-way grant to use these public lands for 30 years if all rents and other conditions are met. The Record of Decision also approves amendments to the BLM’s California Desert Conservation Area Plan, identifying the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm site as available for solar energy development and identifying 14,500 acres in the Project Study Area as unavailable for solar energy development. The BLM oversees more than 1.5 million acres in Riverside County, including nearly a million acres managed for conservation.
The Desert Sunlight project is part of Interior’s priority approach to processing existing applications for renewable energy development on public lands in a coordinated, focused manner with full environmental analysis and public review. It is the 12th solar project to advance since Secretary made renewable energy a priority for the Department in March 2009, and the 3rd solar project in 2011. In July, Salazar approved two utility-scale solar developments in California, a wind energy project in Oregon, and a transmission line in Southern California that together will create more than 1,300 construction jobs and provide a combined 550 megawatts of electricity.
Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.