Interior Department OKs Projects On Public Land, Announces Solar PEIS Supplement

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar has announced the approval of two utility-scale solar projects and a transmission line project on public lands, as well as the next steps in an environmental analysis to identify ‘solar energy zones’ on public lands in six Western states.

The two approved solar developments are the Abengoa Mojave Solar Project and the Imperial Solar Energy Center. Both projects are located on private property in California but require transmission lines that cross public land.

The Abengoa Mojave Solar Project is a 250 MW farm located on 1,765 acres in San Bernardino County. The project will use solar thermal parabolic trough technology and require 17 miles of transmission lines crossing public lands. As part of the approval process, the project developer, Victorville, Calif.-based Mojave Solar LLC, has agreed to acquire more than 100 acres of habitat suitable for the desert tortoise, Mohave ground squirrel and burrowing owl.

The Imperial Solar Energy Center is a 200 MW solar PV project located on 946 acres of private land in Imperial County. The project is being developed by Omaha, Neb.-based CSOLAR Development LLC, which has agreed to acquire and enhance the nearby habitat for the flat-tailed horned lizard and burrowing owls to compensate for project impacts. The project requires a 19-acre right-of-way on public land.

The Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 Transmission Line Project, meanwhile, is a 500 kV line that will provide interconnection and electrical transmission for numerous solar energy facilities proposed for construction, including nine large-scale solar projects in California and Nevada with a potential output of more than 3,600 MW. The DOI approved these projects last year.

The line will extend 115 miles from the Colorado River Substation near Blythe to the Devers Substation in Palm Springs, and from the Devers Substation to the Valley Substation in Romoland, Riverside County.

Salazar also announced the approval of a wind project in Oregon. Together, these four renewable energy projects are expected to create more than 1,300 construction jobs and provide a combined 550 MW of electricity.

Additionally, the DOI, in cooperation with the Department of Energy, will prepare a targeted supplement to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development (Draft Solar PEIS) released last December.

The Solar PEIS will establish a framework for developing utility-scale solar energy projects on public lands. The supplement will address key issues identified through public comments and provide a number of enhancements, the departments say.

Among the issues to be addressed, according to the DOI, are the development of well-defined criteria for identifying solar energy zones, incentives for encouraging developers to site their projects in the zones and a variance process for those who wish to develop facilities outside such zones. The supplement will also include surveys of biological and cultural resources in the zones and an analysis of transmission.

No new solar energy zones will be analyzed in the supplemental document, but additional zones will be analyzed through other ongoing state and regional planning efforts from the DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Through the Solar PEIS supplement, the BLM will review the establishment of solar energy zones within the lands available for solar development right-of-way applications. These include areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The BLM expects to release the supplement this fall.

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