With control over 320 megawatts of solar power generating capacity, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources already calls itself the biggest solar power company in the U.S. (at least for now), and it is about to add a whopping 750 more megawatts in one fell swoop if the Environmental Impact Statement for its proposed McCoy solar energy project in California passes muster. Among other issues, habitat protection for the Desert Tortoise is a key item.
If it does make the grade, the significance of the McCoy solar project goes far beyond bragging rights for just NextEra Energy. Assuming that it hits the ground on schedule in 2013, it will help push President Obama’s ambitious renewable energy initiative for public lands far beyond its original goal of 10,000 megawatts, zooming from zero to 10,400 megawatts since 2009.
The McCoy Solar Project
Though not the biggest solar project planned for pubic land in California, the NextEra project (through McCoy Solar LLC) is massive by any measure. If approved, its 750 megawatts are enough to provide electricity for 225,000 homes. Including a 14-mile line and a two-acre switch yard, the installation will be developed on about 4,400 acres.
Most of the land is managed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, located in Riverside County, California.
One key to approval of the project will be the company’s plans for mitigating impacts on the habitat of the Desert Tortoise. The original project boundaries were changed in order to avoid some impacts. Additional mitigation measures include an equivalent tradeoff in protections for habitat outside of the project.
For the record, as of this writing the largest planned solar project planned for California is Solar Millenium’s 1,000-megawatt Blythe project in the Mohave desert.
More and Bigger Solar Power Projects
To give you an idea of how rapidly the solar power field is advancing, back in 2009 the President’s goal was to authorize 10,000 megawatts of utility-scale renewable energy projects on public land covering solar power along with wind and other renewable sources, by 2013.
This past October, the Administration laid out an ambitious blueprint for another 23,700 megawatts in solar power alone on public land.
That dovetails with a Memorandum of Understanding that Interior and the Department of Defense signed a few months back, which streamlines the process for siting utility-scale renewable energy projects at military facilities.
Standalone, utility-scale renewable energy projects at public facilities also got a boost last year, when the Army launched the Energy Initiatives Task Force. This special office was set up to relieve individual base commanders from having to reinvent the wheel for each power project.
Meanwhile, utility scale renewable power is just one sustainable avenue toward energy security that the Obama Administration has been pursuing. The initiatives also include a heavy dose of individual-oriented energy conservation, building retrofits and energy data management strategies through the Better Buildings and Green Button initiatives.
Perhaps the best example of this distributed, democratic side of the renewable power scene is the Administration’s new Plug and Play solar power initiative, which aims to make solar power as affordable and universally accessible as any other major appliance.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.