Obama admin identifies 23 priority projects for permitting push

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Interior Department today announced it has identified 23 solar, wind and geothermal power projects that it intends to move through federal permitting this year and next, continuing the Obama administration’s aggressive push to advance renewable energy development on federal land.

If all 23 projects are approved by the Bureau of Land Management and built in the next 24 months, the 14 solar, six wind and three geothermal power projects would have the capacity to produce 5,300 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 1.6 million homes.

The list offers the largest number of priority projects yet; BLM last year targeted a then-record 17 utility-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects for permitting and approval.

“These projects are part of our comprehensive efforts to promote smart development of solar, wind and geothermal energy on our nation’s public lands,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today in an emailed statement.

The 23 projects were chosen because BLM officials say they’re far enough along in the planning and permitting process to likely receive a record of decision authorizing them by year’s end, or if not then before the end of 2014.

They also survived a vetting process that involves collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and National Park Service.

BLM has made the proper siting of renewable energy projects on federal land a top priority. Last fall, Salazar approved a solar development plan that would provide expedited permitting for projects located in 17 new “solar energy zones” on BLM land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah that were identified as having low resource values (E&ENews PM, Oct. 12, 2012).

In a separate action last month, Salazar announced approval of a BLM solar development plan in Arizona that identifies dozens of “Renewable Energy Development Areas” covering 192,100 acres, mostly in south and southwest Arizona, and establishes a 2,550-acre solar energy zone in Yuma County (Greenwire, Jan. 18).

Salazar said in December the agency was looking at naming more than 20 solar, wind and geothermal power projects as priorities to complete the permitting process.

This followed a successful 2012 as the administration continued its efforts to use federal land to help drive development of solar, wind and geothermal power. Salazar said BLM has approved 34 such projects since 2009 that have the potential to power about 3.5 million homes and businesses.

Many of the projects on the 2013 list have been working through the federal permitting process for a year or more, and some were on the 2012 priority list.

Those include the 750 MW McCoy Solar Energy Project in Southern California and the 100 MW Quartzsite Solar Energy Project in southern Arizona, as well as the 200 MW Searchlight Wind Energy Project in southeast Nevada, all three of which were issued a final environmental impact statement (EIS) in December and are simply waiting for Interior to issue a record of decision.

Also included is the 150 MW Desert Harvest Solar Project in Southern California, which received a final EIS in November.

Other projects on the 2013 list, such as the 500 MW Mohave County Wind Farm in northwest Arizona and the 33 MW Casa Diablo Geothermal Energy Project proposed to be built on Inyo National Forest and adjacent private lands in east-central California, are awaiting a final EIS.

The priority projects include seven utility-scale solar projects covering nearly 20,000 acres of BLM land with a total capacity to produce 2,014 MW of electricity — enough to power more than 700,000 homes.

Seven other solar projects on the list are located on private or Native American tribal lands, with some portion of the project — usually a connected transmission line — crossing BLM-managed lands that require the agency’s approval.

Among them is the 200 MW Moapa Solar Energy Center by RES Americas, proposed to be built on 2,000 acres on the Moapa River Indian Reservation in Clark County, Nev., about 30 miles north of Las Vegas. The Moapa project is being evaluated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in consultation with BLM.

These so-called connected action projects would have the capacity, if built, to produce 2,325 MW of power.

The McCoy solar project, for example, would be the world’s largest solar power plant, capable of producing enough electricity to power more than 225,000 homes.

“We are pleased to see the Department of the Interior continue to promote solar development on federal land,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C., said today in an emailed statement. “The U.S. now has enough installed solar capacity to power nearly a million households, and 2013 is now set to be another year of record growth for our industry.”

There are also some major wind power projects on the priority list, which in total would cover more than 70,000 acres of BLM land and have the capacity to produce more than 1,100 MW of electricity, or enough to power more than 380,000 homes.

Among them, the 300 MW Alta East Wind Project would be the largest wind farm on federal land in California, and the Searchlight wind project would be Nevada’s largest wind farm.

Houston-based BP Wind Energy North America Inc.’s proposed 500 MW Mohave County Wind Farm in northwest Arizona would string together as many as 283 wind turbines across nearly 39,000 acres of BLM land and nearly 9,000 acres of Bureau of Reclamation land. The wind farm — which would be the state’s largest — would have the capacity to produce enough electricity to power as many as 175,000 homes in Arizona, Nevada and California.

The latest renewables priority list comes a little more than a week after the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced that 2012 was the industry’s best ever, with 13,124 MW of newly installed wind power capacity.

Nationwide, there is now more than 60,000 MW of installed wind power capacity — enough to power nearly 15 million homes, or every house in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio, according to AWEA.

“We appreciate the continued support of the Department of Interior for wind energy development on public lands,” said John Anderson, AWEA’s director of siting policy. “And we look forward to these and other public land wind energy projects receiving their final approvals.”

Click here to read the list of projects on the priority list.