DOE has been considered the catalyst of renewables in America, but two major announcements by the Interior Department may have just served notice it could be the real driver of clean energy growth during President Obama’s second term.
Within 24 hours, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell approved three renewable energy projects on federal land in Arizona and Nevada, and announced Interior will hold the first auction for US offshore wind farm leases in July. Together, the two decisions could create nearly 4 gigawatts of new clean electricity generation.
This week’s developments underscore the Interior Department’s commitment to renewable energy development as part of the administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, hint at Jewell’s climate-hawk credibility, and could kick-start America’s foray into the growing global offshore wind energy market.
520MW Of Utility-Scale Southwest Renewables
The three approved Southwest US renewable projects will likely have the most immediate impact. When built, the projects will create more than 900 green jobs and deliver up to 520 megawatts (MW) of clean electricity to the grid – enough to power 200,000 average American homes.
Boulder Solar Power’s Midland Solar Project, located 7 miles southwest of Boulder City, Nevada, is the largest of the three at 350MW nameplate capacity, and will create more than 360 jobs. Solar photovoltaic panels will stretch across 1,554 acres of land, but will use innovative water and conservation measures to minimize and mitigate impacts to water supply and wildlife habitat.
SolarReserve’s Quartzsite Solar Project, situated in La Paz County, Arizona, consists of a 100MW concentrating solar power (CSP) plant with integrated thermal energy storage. The project will be located on 1,600 acres of federal lands, use dry-cooling technology to require far less water than other CSP plants, create around 450 jobs, and generate more than $60 million in local economic activity.
Last but not least, TerraGen Power’s New York Canyon Geothermal project will be built on federal land in Pershing County, Nevada, and include 70MW of capacity with a 230-kilovolt high-voltage transmission line. The project will create 150 jobs, and provide baseload power with few environmental concerns.
While all three projects still require power-purchase agreements (PPA) with utilities in order to secure financing and start construction, they could be the first in a major surge of utility-scale renewable project approvals. In February, the Interior Department announced it would fast-track review of 23 proposed projects on federal land by the end of 2014, including 1.2GW of new wind farms.
Offshore Wind “History In The Making”
Even though the Interior Department’s offshore wind lease announcement could take longer to result in renewable energy development, it could create a much larger impact – nearly 3.4GW of potential installed wind energy capacity, enough to power 1 million homes.
The first-ever competitive lease sale for offshore wind development will be held on July 31 and cover 164,750 acres off Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “This is history in the making,” said Secretary Jewell. “We are working to ensure that America leads the world in developing the energy of the future.”
Nine companies have expressed an interest in the auction and have been certified to participate by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The winners will earn the right to develop the projects, join a heated race to develop the nation’s first offshore wind farm, and could lead to even more offshore wind development. “If there is good interest in this one, then I think you will have this happening on a consistent basis,” said Secretary Jewell.
The long-delayed Cape Wind project off Massachusetts and recently proposed Block Island project off Rhode Island are already in development and attest to the growing interest in harnessing America’s massive offshore wind potential in the Atlantic Ocean.
However, dark clouds may be on the horizon. Republicans in Congress are attacking the lease sale announcement as an example of the government picking winners and losers, failing to notice the irony of pairing their criticism with calls for expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.