US Interior Department approves new solar zone in California

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The U.S. Department of the Interior this week announced the establishment of a new renewable energy zone in the state of California that has an estimated potential of more than 3.3 GW of solar power.

During a keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the Interior Department was employing a landscape-level approach that addresses mitigation and conservation objectives in an effort to meet the clean energy goals set by the Obama administration.

As part of the landscape-level approach, Jewell said the Interior Department had approved the establishment of the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area (REEA) on public lands in California’s Imperial Valley. This REEA will prioritize the lands, overseen by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), for the exploration and development of solar and geothermal energy. The BLM estimates that the 64,058-acre (25,923-hectare) area has the potential to develop more than 3,330 MW of solar power and 150 MW of the geothermal power.

"Establishing the West Chocolate Mountains area represents the kind of landscape-level approach that the BLM is committed to," said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. "Using this approach to site renewable energy projects in the right places is an important part of helping us meet the president’s clean energy goals."

The REEA creates a new solar energy zone, which is part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to facilitate solar energy development by identifying areas in six Western states with high solar potential, few resource conflicts and access to existing or planned transmission.

The Western Solar Plan, approved in October 2012, created 17 Solar Energy Zones with incentives for development and a process for considering additional zones. The Interior Department approved an 18th solar energy zone in January, with the Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project. The West Chocolate Mountains REEA is the third Solar Energy Zone in California and brings the national total to 19.

The Interior Department has approved 47 solar, wind and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands since 2009, including associated transmission corridors and infrastructure to connect to established power grids. When built, these projects add up to more than 13.3 GW, which the department points out is enough energy to power 4.6 million homes and support more than 19,000 construction and operations jobs.