US Interior Department greenlights 550 MW projects in California, Nevada


The U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday announced the approval of two solar projects in the states of California and Nevada proposed by First Solar that will have a combined capacity of 550 MW.

The first plant, the 300 MW Stateline Solar Farm Project, will go up in San Bernardino County, California, on approximately 1,685 acres (682 hectares ) of public land located two miles (3.2 kilometers) south of the California-Nevada border. The PV facility, which will generate enough electricity to power some 90,000 homes, will connect to the grid via a 4.3-kilometer, 220-kilovolt transmission line.

The second installation, the 250 MW Silver State South Solar Project will be located near Primm, Nevada, on approximately 2,400 acres (971 hectares) of public land. The facility is expected to power about 80,000 homes and will be built adjacent to the 50 MW Silver State North Project, the first solar plant on public lands to deliver power to the grid.

Southern California Edison has agreed to purchase the projects’ energy output for 20 years.

First Solar agreed to undertake significant project design changes and mitigation measures to minimize impacts to wildlife, water, historical, cultural and other resources, according to the Interior Department.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked on the Stateline proposal to reduce the project’s footprint by more than 20 percent to avoid and minimize project impacts, the agency said. In addition, as part of ongoing efforts to protect the threatened desert tortoise, the BLM is expanding the nearby Ivanpah Desert Wildlife Management Area by more than 20,000 acres (8,094 hectares) and requiring that the developer achieve 3:1 compensatory mitigation for desert tortoise for its 1,685 acres (682 hectares).

For the Silver State South project, the project design was modified to reduce the size of the facility by 100 MW. In addition, First Solar will have to pay more than $3.6 million for desert tortoise mitigation and $3.5 million for studies intended to guide future efforts to protect the desert tortoise in the project area. The company is also required to assess the project’s potential adverse impact if archaeological properties at the site are found to be eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said pointed out that in implementing the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, "we need to do so in a way that takes the long view and avoids or minimizes conflicts with important natural and cultural resources."

Despite the federal agency’s efforts to mitigate potential threats to the desert tortoise, which was officially listed as a threatened species in 1994, some environmental groups have continued to oppose the facilities.

Michael J. Connor, California Director of the Western Watersheds Project, told the Associated Press that the plants would effectively isolate the tortoises’ habitats, eventually shrinking the gene pool.

"Once you have populations that are isolated they are more prone to chance events like disease die-offs and the like," he said.

BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze said the "solar projects reflect exemplary cooperation between the Bureau of Land Management and other federal, state and local agencies, enabling a thorough environmental review and robust mitigation provisions."

The Interior Department said the projects would support more than 700 jobs through construction and operations and generate enough electricity to power about 170,000 homes.

The PV projects marked the 49th and 50th utility-scale renewable energy projects that the Interior Department has approved on public lands since 2009, including 27 solar, 11 wind and 12 geothermal projects with a combined capacity of 14 GW, among them the 377 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which began full commercial operation last week in California.