Salazar approves 4 major solar, wind projects on public lands; outlines plan for more

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Thursday gave the nod to four major solar and wind energy projects on public and private lands in California and Oregon, kicked off the environmental review process for three more projects and outlined the next steps in mapping out “solar energy zones” on public lands in six western states, including Colorado.

Here are the four projects that landed federal approval:

Abengoa Mojave Solar Project (pdf): A 250-megawatt project on 1,765 acres of private land in California’s Mojave Desert with 17 miles of transmission lines crossing public lands.

Imperial Solar Energy Center (pdf): A 200-megawatt project located on 946 acres of private land with a 19 acre right-of-way on BLM land in Imperial County, Calif.

The West Butte Wind Energy Project (pdf): Up to 52 2- to 3-megawatt wind turbines on private land in Deschutes and Crook counties in Oregon. The project includes an access road and transmission line crossing about 4.5 miles of BLM lands.

Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 Transmission Line Project (pdf): A major transmission line project that will interconnect and provide electrical transmission for a slew of solar projects proposed in California and Nevada, including nine large-scale solar facilities approved by Salazar last year with up to 3,600 megawatts of potential power output.

The new projects are sure to regenerate debate over the push for utility scale solar versus distributed generation (rooftop) on homes, businesses and public buildings. Distributed generation means fewer transmission lines crossing public and private lands.

Transmission has been a highly contentious issue in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, where Salazar grew up on a ranch and now local advocacy groups are fighting efforts to build more utility scale solar that would require increased transmission to Front Range cities.

Also on Thursday, Salazar, in conjunction with the Department of Energy, announced a “targeted supplement” to the Interior Department’s Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development (Solar PEIS). The new draft will incorporate public comments and take the next steps in developing so-called “solar energy zones” on public lands in six states, including Colorado.

“Investing in large-scale solar and wind energy projects helps create jobs today, builds the clean energy economy of tomorrow and increases our global competitiveness around the world,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on a conference call. “Together these projects will power hundreds of thousands of homes with clean, renewable power while helping to create jobs in California and Oregon.”

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