DOI greenlights massive solar, wind projects in southwest US

The US Department of the Interior has approved two utility-scale renewable energy projects (one solar, one wind) in the southwest US that together will generate almost 500MW of power.

December 22, 2011 – The US Department of the Interior has approved two utility-scale renewable energy projects that together will generate almost 500MW of power.

One is NextEra’s Sonoran PV project in Maricopa County just southwest of Phoenix, Arizona’s first project approved for public lands. Originally planned to be a solar thermal site, it’s since been modified to become a proposed 300MW solar PV install (two 150MW AC arrays), in part due to cost comparisons with respect to solar PV (as have many solar thermal projects lately), but also to compromise with conservationists — e.g., water usage reduced from 3000 acre/feet to 33 acre/feet, and 44% smaller footprint, now ~2000 acres. (Conservationists apparently think this acreage is already too compromised by development and not worth fighting for.) It will employ 358 construction/maintenance workers and 16 permanent ones; for taxpayers’ reassurance, the project will pay $375M annually to the Bureau of Land Management (rental fees) and nearly $1.6M in MW capacity fees.

The other is a wind power project: Iberdrola’s Tule Wind Project east of San Diego, the state’s first public-land-approved wind energy project since 2002. As with Sonoran, the Tule project also has been modified from its original plans, to about half the size (now just 62 turbines, on ~12,000 acres spanning state, private, and tribal lands) and with some of the lines to be buried, to minimize visual impacts.

Together the two plants would pump out as much power as 18 coal-fired plants, noted Salazar in a statement. They’ll also create about 700 construction/maintenance jobs (though only 28 permanent ones).

The DOI also has approved an offshore transmission line (stretching from NY-NJ-DE-MD-VA) to deliver up to 7GW of wind turbine capacity to the grid. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has opened public comments for potential environmental effects, and also wants to know of any overlapping interests with other planned transmission facilities in the area. BOEM director Tommy Beaudreau called this project proposal “an encouraging sign that there is significant interest in developing the infrastructure to support offshore wind development.”

Over the past two years, the DOI has approved 25 major RE projects on public lands (15 solar, three wind, seven geothermal); all told they’ll produce nearly 6.2GW of energy, and create 12,000 construction/operational jobs.

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