Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Feds Greenlight 2 California Solar Power Plants

 By JASON DEAREN, Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO – For the first time, federal land managers gave final approval Tuesday for the construction of two large solar installations on public lands that could power hundreds of thousands of homes with renewable energy.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the projects in Southern California involve a square mile of glimmering solar panels near Victorville and a large array of satellite dish-like sun catchers covering about 10 square miles in the remote Imperial Valley.

Both could start transmitting electricity to the state grid by the end of 2011 or early 2012.

The approval came soon after California regulators passed new rules requiring utilities to derive a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the most aggressive standards in the U.S.

At full capacity, the two facilities would generate power for up to 566,000 homes and create almost 1,000 new jobs, officials said.

"These projects are milestones in our focused effort to rapidly and responsibly capture renewable energy resources on public lands," Salazar said. "It is an historic day."

The announcement came about five years after solar developers began asking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for rights to develop hundreds of solar plants on millions of acres of federally owned desert in the Southwest.

The bureau opened federally owned lands in 2005 to solar development, but an examination of records and interviews of officials by The Associated Press showed the program operated a first-come, first-served leasing system that quickly overwhelmed its small staff and enabled companies, regardless of solar industry experience, to squat on land without any real plans to develop it.

To expedite environmental review and bureaucratic red tape, the Department of the Interior identified 14 of the most promising solar projects among the more than 180 current permit applications covering about 23 million acres of federally owned desert in the Southwest... read more

Copyright 2010 Associated Press

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