Smart From The Start

Today U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that his department, along with the Bureau of Land Management, had approved the necessary permits allowing for the construction of the first two solar energy projects ever deployed on U.S. public lands.

“This is an historic day for the U.S. and for California,” said Secretary Salazar speaking on conference call. “I am pleased to be moving forward into the clean energy frontier,” he said also crediting Bob Abbey, the Director of the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts in realizing these projects. “They oversee 245 million acres of public lands that could contribute significantly to the country’s energy needs.”


Suncatcher System by Stirling Energy Systems.

The nation’s first two solar projects on public lands will both be in the Golden State. The 709-megawatt (MW) Imperial Valley project just East of San Diego on 6,360 acres of public lands will generate enough solar power to provide electricity for up to 500,000 homes. The second solar project, in the Inland Empire of San Bernardino County, is a 45 MW solar project on 422 acres of public lands referred to as the Chevron Lucerne project. Combined, these two solar energy projects are expected to create about 950 jobs and infuse $1 billion into California’s economy.

“I am excited to join Secretary Salazar today in announcing the first solar projects to ever get permits on federal land, both of which will be located in the Golden State,” said Governor Schwarzenegger who missed the press conference call because he was stuck on a plane. “Today’s announcement only further cements California’s national leadership in renewable energy development – and it couldn’t have been without our federal partners. Our great partnership is helping to improve public health, grow our green economy, promote energy independence and strengthen our national security.”  – Governor Schwarzenegger

Governor Schwarzenegger has been championing these projects from the start. Barely a week ago when the California Energy Commission approved the larger Imperial Valley project (the smaller Chevron Lucerne project did not require CEC approval), the only thing standing in the way was the permitting from the Bureau of Land Management called “Records of Decision.” Now that these have been granted, the projects will qualify for the Federal Stimulus Funds in the form of 30% tax credit for overall cost of the construction of the projects. The deadline to qualify for those funds is December 31st. Salazar said he expected more projects to be approved by the end of 2010.

Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said that they will continue with their “Smart from the start,” approach. He said that these first two solar projects are examples of how the permitting process can be streamlined “without cutting any corners for environmental reviews or ecological considerations.” He added that the projects all had extended public input from various stakeholders.

“There are 11 million acres of public lands in California deserts. The area to be disturbed is less than two-tenths of 1%,” emphasized BLM’s Abbey.  Salazar noted that now even NRDC and Sierra Club have come on board with the projects.

Commenting on the 180 permits pending for more solar project developments in the U.S., Salazar said that, “We will be pro-active so we avoid conflicts with ecological aspects we are trying to protect. It’s really no different from what we’ve done with city planning for the past 50, 60 years. We foresee thousands of solar plants sprouting up all over the nation.”  There are currently 1.3 million acres of land under application for solar projects.

The companies that will be developing the Imperial Valley solar project on public lands are owned by an Irish conglomerate, NRT, and are called Tessera Solar and Stirling Energy Systems.

READ Press Release from Department of Interior HERE.

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