Blythe Solar Power Project Approved in Mojave Desert, California
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the long-awaited approval of a 1,000-megawatt solar power plant on public lands in the Mojave Desert in southern California yesterday.
This project, which will (temporarily) be the world’s largest solar farm is expected to generate enough clean electricity for over 300,000 homes at peak output. It would more than double all solar output in the U.S.
“In signing the Record of Decision on Friday last week, Secretary Salazar gave developer Solar Millennium the green light to build the 7,000-acre project near Blythe, Calif. The project will create more than 1,000 jobs during construction and some 221 permanent jobs when it becomes fully operational,” the Defenders of Wildlife writes.
“The Blythe Solar Power Project is a major milestone in our nation’s renewable energy economy and shows that the United States intends to compete and lead in the technologies of the future,” MSNBC reports Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said when announcing his approval.
The project is estimated to cost $6 billion and construction is supposed to begin at the end of 2010. It is expected to start producing electricity in 2013.
“The plant will use ‘parabolic trough’ system whereby parabolic mirrors focus the sun’s energy onto collector tubes. Fluid in the tubes is then heated and sent to a boiler, which sends live steam to a turbine to produce electricity.”
“Fast Track” Solar Projects Going Fast
This is the sixth solar project the U.S. government has authorized on public lands (all deserts) in the last month. Approval of yet another project, also in California, is expected within the next few weeks. Altogether, these 7 projects could generate enough electricity for up to 2 million homes. The projects are expected to create over 2,000 jobs, several hundred being permanent.
These 7 projects are a part of 14 “fast track” solar projects getting expedited environmental review and minimal bureaucratic red tape. The program seems to be working well.
However, solar power still has a lot of catching up to do. MSNBC reports:
even after the 14 fast-track projects are approved, solar energy will remain a tiny fraction of overall energy production on U.S. lands. The projects approved this month are the first ever approved by land management bureau, compared with more than 74,000 oil and gas permits issued in the past two decades.
Environmental Concerns of Blythe Solar Project Addressed
Some widely-covered concerns of this solar project were, ironically, environmental concerns. In particular, a rare desert tortoise could be threatened by this project. However, large environmental organizations worked closely with the government and developers to ensure the project goes forward smoothly. The Defenders of Wildlife reports:
Conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society, worked closely with the developers and state and federal agencies on the project. While this project affects a large area with some sensitive resources, the Blythe Solar site has attributes that lessen its impacts
These organizations clearly see the great overall environmental benefit of switching to clean energy, and fast. Hopefully all will turn out well for the desert tortoises and other wildlife.
Photo Credits: Blythe Sunset by kevindooley on flickr (CC license); Sunset near Blythe, California by Accretion Disc on flickr (CC license)