Solar Power Plants Bloom in the Desert

Alt Dot Energy
January 12, 2009

There has been a 78 percent spike in the number of land-use applications
received from solar projects in the millions of desert acres west of the Rocky
Mountains according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 2007 it
received 125 applications, in 2008 223 applications, which takes it up to about
2.3 million acres of land, according to Greentech Media.

These are mostly for solar power plant projects of 10 megawatts and above. Many
of them are listed on a downloadable Excel file here. California garnered the
most interest, with 107 applications, the Mojave Desert is apparently a prime
piece of real estate in the solar world. Nevada got 71 and Arizona 35. The
remainder applied for space in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. You can download a
map of proposed California desert solar facilities here (PDF).

Extensive permitting and environmental reviews are required for any project to
even break ground. To understand how strict these restrictions are, you only
have to know that just two of the 223 candidates have even made it to the
environmental review stage: those two were the proposed solar-thermal plants of
Oakland, California company BrightSource Energy and Phoenix, Arizona based
Stirling Energy Systems, producing 400 and 1,750 megawatts, respectively.

BLM officials have said that the organization needs to hire more staff members
to sift through the avalanche of applications but that any growth will depend on
the priorities of the incoming Obama administration. To facilitate development
in the meantime, California’s state government has looked into easing its permit
procedure and streamlining the process used to determine projects’ environmental
and economic footprints.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently emphasized the elimination of red
tape for cleantech startups. In November, he signed Executive Order S-14-08
aimed at streamlining the approval process for renewable developers, couching it
as both an environmental and economic necessity.

Right now, existing solar plants in the Mojave generate about 354-megawatts and
power 380,000 homes.


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