The US secretary of the interior today announced approval for a further solar energy zone that could see up to 3.3GW of projects developed on public lands in Nevada.
Secretary Sally Jewell told delegates at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas that the Interior Department had approved 64,058-acres in the West Chocolate Mountains in California’s Imperial Valley as a Renewable Energy Evaluation Area (REEA) on public lands.
REEAs prioritize land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the exploration and development of solar and geothermal energy under a directive from President Barack Obama to permit 20GW of solar energy by 2020. West Chocolate Mountain's REEA could site a potential 3,330 megawatts of solar power and 150 megawatts of the geothermal power.
The Western Solar Plan, approved in October 2012, created 17 Solar Energy Zones with incentives for development within those zones and a process for considering additional zones. Interior approved an 18th Solar Energy Zone in January, with the Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project. The West Chocolate Mountains REEA is the third Solar Energy Zone in California and brings the national total to 19.
“Under the Western Solar Plan, the Department of Energy and BLM established solar energy zones, places that have the most potential that access to existing transmission and have the least conflict,” said Jewell. “It [has] made it very easy for people to say these are areas we should be targeting for solar.
“We have now permitted 25 solar projects on public lands, there were zero in 2009. All told, 47 solar, wind and geothermal projects have been permitted on public lands, they are all utility-scale projects and have associated transmission.
“If all of these projects were built that would mean 13.3GW of power, enough to power 4.6m homes and create an estimated 19,000 construction and operations jobs.”
Nevada is home to the first utility-scale project on public lands, the 15MW Silver Star North Solar Project.
“We're making good progress but we've got a lot of progress to make and the low hanging fruit has been picked and we [want to add] some more fruit to that basket,” she said.