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Utility-Scale Solar on BLM Desert Lands Will Generate Substantial Income for Taxpayers

Desert lands in solar-rich Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah will not just supply our nation with abundant, clean, safe, fuel-free solar power – but will also generate very good financial returns for the benefit of the public good nationwide, under a new fee schedule the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) introduced last month for solar developers.


Energy Prospects reports that a megawatt-capacity fee (based on the productivity of the solar  technologies chosen) and annual rents per acre will be charged by the BLM for the next 50 years or more, generating not just abundant clean sunshine-powered energy, but also a very substantial annual income from desert lands.

The base rents range from just under $16 an acre to more than $300 an acre, payable annually. It takes thousands of acres to make solar power, so these will really add up. The 200 applications currently awaiting approvals on BLM land range from 5,000 acre projects up to ones that are up to 32,000 acres in size.

One 4,000 acre solar installation in Clark County, supplying Las Vegas, would bring in annual rent of $753,360. The 1,000 MW Solar Millennium parabolic-trough solar thermal project in Blythe, near Los Angeles (if it can ever get through the interminable elaborate environmental reviews!) would pay $9.5 million every year in both per-MW fees and rents.

The most expensive land for the base rent is closer to big cities in RES states, and the most expensive MW fees are for those solar technologies that incorporate night-time storage. As we add more renewables, energy storage is becoming a requirement in some states, like California. With that double whammy of included storage, and near Los Angeles – Solar Millennium will pay a premium. Each acre rented in Riverside County, near Los Angeles and Arizona’s Yuma County, (which could supply San Diego, LA or even Tucson) would rent at $314 per year. Desert land in far more isolated rural spots, some that lack freeway access, or available transmission, have lower rents. The lowest rents, $16 an acre, are in isolated Pima County, AZ, and Luna and Hidalgo County NM, and Mineral County, NV.

Then, in addition to the base rent, there will also be megawatt-capacity fees that vary depending on the relative productivity of different solar technologies. Concentrating solar thermal with three hours or more of night time storage would pay the most at $7,884 per MW annually. PV would pay the least ($5,256) and no-storage solar thermal would pay $6,570 for every megawatt annually.

PV generally takes the most space of the various technologies, as much as 20 acres per megawatt, but this varies. For example OptiSolar has planned 300 MW on 6,000 acres in Maricopa County, AZ, and another that can produce 500 MW on the same size space in Gila Bend, AZ. Concentrating solar thermal takes the least space, about 10 acres per megawatt, and it varies too. One of two planned 2,000 MW concentrating solar power trough projects from Iberdrola in Arizona will use 32,000 acres on each side of US 95. Their identical sized other one, south of 1-10 will take only 26,000 acres.

But since since solar uses lots of acres, the income will be enormous. The BLM has received more than 200 right-of-way applications for solar projects on BLM land in Southwestern states. And, because of the per megawatt fees, the income will increase as time goes on as efficient technologies are plugged in to replace the ones we initially build.

Susan Kraemer @Twitter

Image: Scott Braut

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Written By

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.


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