BLM OKs construction of massive Calif. solar project

Source: By Scott Streater, E&E News • Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2022

Solar panels in California.

Solar panels in California. Bureau of Land Management California/Flickr

The Bureau of Land Management has authorized construction to begin on the third of three large-scale solar power projects inside a California renewable energy zone.

The 500-megawatt Oberon solar project would cover about 2,600 acres inside the 22.5-million-acre Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan area and have the capacity to power about 146,000 homes. The project includes a battery storage system of up to 200 MW.

BLM earlier this year formally approved issuing a right-of-way permit for the project (Greenwire, Jan. 18).

The agency last year approved the first two large-scale solar power projects in the area — the Arica and Victory Pass photovoltaic solar projects covering 1,300 acres and with a collective capacity to produce up to 465 MW of electricity (E&E News PM, Dec. 21, 2021).

BLM last month said work could proceed on the solar projects (E&E News PM, June 13).

Construction on the Oberon project could begin this month. It’s not clear when the solar project will be completed and put into operation.

The Biden administration today touted the Oberon photovoltaic solar project as a “milestone” in the administration’s ongoing efforts to permit 25,000 MW of solar, wind and geothermal power projects by 2025, as well as a broader goal to wean the nation’s power grid off fossil fuels.

BLM California Director Karen Mouritsen called Oberon “an example of how public land in California plays a big role in achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.”

It also illustrates the current administration’s commitment to balance renewable energy and other uses inside the energy zone.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan area, which is a partnership between BLM and the state of California, includes public and private lands in the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and is designed to ensure that commercial-scale solar, wind and geothermal power projects are balanced with conservation, recreation and other uses of public lands (E&E News PM, Sept. 14, 2016).

The area includes 10.8 million acres of federal lands and designates 388,000 acres of “development focus areas” deemed suitable for commercial-scale renewable energy projects. It envisioned 20,000 MW of new green energy projects on these development focus areas by 2040.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration wanted to expand the amount of land deemed suitable for energy production within the area. The Interior Department during the final days of Trump’s presidency released a draft plan that would have removed millions of acres of designated conservation areas inside the zone in the name of ramping up energy production (E&E News PM, Jan. 13, 2021).

Interior axed the Trump-era proposal last year (Greenwire, March 12, 2021).

“The BLM is committed to responsible renewable energy development that balances conservation and utilization of public land,” Mouritsen said.

BLM said in press materials today that it is processing 64 utility-scale onshore renewable energy projects in the West, including gen-tie power line projects allowing the green energy projects to connect to the electric power grid.

If all are built, they have the capacity to add more than 41,000 MW of electricity to the Western power grid, BLM said.