Three Solar Projects In California Mark A Massive Shift To Renewable Energy

And it could power nearly 274,000 homes.
Deena Theresa
A photovoltaic solar array in California.GaryKavanagh/iStock

As part of the U.S.' efforts to counter climate change and achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, the Department of the Interior announced today that it has approved two solar projects with a third close to completion on public lands in Riverside County, California.

The three projects will generate around 1,000 megawatts (or 1 gigawatt of power) and are the first projects approved under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) in the desert regions of seven California counties, according to a press release. The move stresses the department's steadfast commitment to advocating for onshore renewable energy production.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the Arica and Victory Pass solar projects that will generate up to 465 megawatts of electricity. Combined, these renewable energy projects could power approximately 132,000 homes. The BLM expects to approve the Oberon solar project, a 500-megawatt photovoltaic solar project that could generate up to 500 megawatts of renewable energy and power nearly 142,000 homes.

The solar development zones were first proposed under the Obama administration, which, in 2012, adopted plans to bring utility-scale solar energy projects to public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Officials have identified almost 1,400 sq mi (3,500 sq km) of public land for potential leasing for solar power.

Creating a holistic community

The Arica, Victory Pass and Oberon solar projects are within areas that have been identified as suitable for renewable energy development as part of the DRECP, which focuses on 10.8 million acres of public lands in the desert regions of seven California counties. Such a plan not only streamlines renewable energy development but also conserves unique and valuable desert ecosystems while providing outdoor recreation opportunities.

In the press release, Secretary Deb Haaland said that such onshore solar projects will help communities across the country be part of the climate solution while creating good-paying union jobs. "We will continue to work in partnership with states, cities, and tribes to make historic investments in boosting climate resiliency, advancing clean energy projects, and replacing aging infrastructure," she said.

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Building infrastructure and creating jobs for a clean energy future is a hallmark of the Biden-Harris administration and the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. "Investing in clean and reliable renewable energy represents the BLM's commitment for addressing climate change and supports Congress’ direction in the Energy Act of 2020 to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal production on public lands no later than 2025," said BLM Director Tract Stone-Manning.

Warming up to the idea

According to data through November 2018, the U.S. has more than 2,500 utility-scale solar photovoltaic electricity generating facilities. However, most of these power plants are relatively small and collectively account for only 2.5 percent of utility-scale electric generating capacity and 1.7 percent of annual electricity generation. In comparison to Germany, which has over 1.86 million energy-generating solar photovoltaic sites, the U.S. seems to lag behind.

A faltering climate bill hasn't disheartened the Interior Department. Instead, Haaland stressed the clean energy provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law last month. During a Tuesday conference call with reporters, she said the Trump administration stalled clean energy by shuttering renewable energy offices at the Bureau of Land Management and undermining long-term agreements. "We are rebuilding that capacity,” she said.

Currently, the BLM is processing 54 utility-scale onshore clean energy projects proposed on public lands in the western U.S. The BLM is also undertaking the preliminary review of 64 applications for solar and wind development, along with 47 applications for wind and solar energy testing.