US permits 550 MW PV project

The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, a 550 megawatt (MW) project, will be deployed on a 4,144-acre site in the Californian desert, east of Palm Springs.

In June, the U.S. Department of Energy had granted Desert Sunlight a conditional commitment of a $1.88 billion loan guarantee. The Department of the Interior decision this month authorizes the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer Desert Sunlight Holdings, a subsidiary of Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc., a right-of-way grant to develop and operate the facility on the designated public lands for 30 years.

The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm represents the keystone of the Obama Administration’s ambitious program to make a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of renewable energy on public lands. Secretary Salazar stated, "[This] is the largest photovoltaic facility Interior has approved thus far and, when built, will help power our nation and economy."

He further noted, "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 project is expected to create 630 jobs at peak construction and infuse $336 million into the local economy – $197 million in wages. In addition, the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm will generate about $27 million in sales and property tax revenues to Riverside County, California. When construction is completed the thin film photovoltaic facility is expected to generate enough energy to power over 165,000 homes.

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.

As part of Interior’s commitment to responsible development of renewable energy, the Desert Sunlight project underwent extensive environmental review and mitigation, with the final environmental impact statement issued on April 15, 2011.

The Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked in close coordination with Desert Sunlight, the National Park Service and other stakeholders to significantly reduce the proposed project’s total footprint from 19,000 acres down to 4,144 acres. In addition, the BLM is requiring Desert Sunlight to provide funding for acquisition and enhancement of more than 7,500 acres of suitable habitat for desert tortoise and other sensitive wildlife species, in order to help mitigate the project’s potential impacts.

The Desert Sunlight project is part of the Department of the 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 twelfth solar project to advance since the Secretary made renewable energy a priority for the Department in March 2009, and the third solar project in 2011.

Last month, Salazar approved two utility-scale solar developments in California, as well as a wind energy project in Oregon, and a transmission line in Southern California which, together, will create more than 1,300 construction jobs and provide a combined 550 MW of electricity.

The State of California is working to achieve a 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard, which will require from 15,000 MW to 20,000 MW of renewable energy by 2020.