Making history: U.S. Department of Interior okays first-ever solar power plants on public lands

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In an historic move, the U.S. Department of the Interior has approved the construction and operation of what will be the first large-scale solar power plants ever sited on public lands.

The two projects, both located in Southern California, are the Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project (proposed by Chevron Energy Solutions), which will consist of 45MW of PV modules on 422 acres of public lands in San Bernardino county; and the 709MW Imperial Valley Solar Project (proposed by Tessera Solar), which will deploy Stirling Energy System’s SunCatcher concentrated solar power (CSP) technology on 6360 acres of public lands in Imperial County.

The two plants, approved for 30-year terms of operation, are the first in a series of renewable energy projects on public lands under final review by DOI.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, renewable energy developers that have their projects under construction by the end of 2010 or meet one of the program’s safe harbor provisions can qualify for significant funding.

The Recovery Act’s payment for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program makes Chevron and Tessera eligible for approximately $31 million and $273 million, respectively.

Each project has undergone thorough environmental review, including public scoping, as well as draft and final environment impact statements. The companies have undertaken extensive mitigation efforts to minimize any impacts to wildlife, water, and other resources.

State and federal agencies have set up a joint compensation fund operated by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to ensure that impacts are mitigated.

“We’re confident that our solar program is smart from the start. With something as momentous as the introduction of large-scale solar development on the public lands, we have one chance to do things right,” said Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey. “That’s why we did complete environmental analyses on both these projects with expanded opportunities for public participation.”

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