Salazar OKs First Solar Power Projects on Public Lands, Signs Cape Wind Lease

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday approved the first large-scale solar energy plants ever to be built on U.S. public lands, and today he signed the nation’s first lease for commercial wind energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

30-Year Leases for 754 MW of Solar Generation

The approval of two developments in California grants the U.S.-based companies behind the projects access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants.

The Imperial Valley Solar Project, proposed by Tessera Solar, will use Stirling Energy System’s SunCatcher technology on 6,360 acres of public lands in California’s Imperial County. The plant, featuring 28,360 solar dishes, is rated at 709 MW.

The Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project, proposed by Chevron Energy Solutions of California, will employ solar photovoltaic technology on 422 acres of public lands in San Bernardino County. With 40,500 solar panels, is rated at 45 MW.

According to the Department of Energy, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s payment for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program makes Tessera and Chevron eligible for approximately $273 million and $31 million, respectively.

The two projects are the first in a series of renewable energy projects on public lands under final review by the DOI. In April of 2009, the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) established a "fast track" program to help projects expedite approval. Each project has undergone thorough environmental review.

Other California projects are on the immediate horizon. The California Energy Commission (CEC) on Sept. 8 approved the construction of the Abengoa Mojave Solar Project, a 250-MW facility planned for San Bernardino County. That solar thermal facility will use parabolic mirrors to collect the sun’s heat and convert it into electricity. Construction is slated to begin this year, with commercial service by early 2013.

The CEC also recently approved several concentrating solar power (CSP) projects that await DOI approval, including the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project, a parabolic trough facility that would be the world’s largest CSP power plant; the 250-MW Genesis Solar Energy Project, which will also employ parabolic troughs; and the 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, which will be the first large-scale deployment of solar power towers in the United States. (eSolar deployed a 5-MW system in Southern California last year.)

28-Year Lease for 468-MW Cape Wind Project

Salazar signed a 28-year lease for the 130-turbine Cape Wind project planned for the OCS in Nantucket Sound, offshore Massachusetts.

Speaking to attendees at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Offshore Wind Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Salazar said that the Department of the Interior was “resolute and determined to secure a safer, cleaner energy future” for the U.S. One reason, he said, was that the nation could not afford to remain dependant on foreign oil. “And we do so because we can’t afford to fall behind China, Germany and India in the race for new energy technologies and renewable energy jobs,” he added.

The area offered in the lease comprises 25 square miles. The site on Horseshoe Shoals lies outside shipping channels, ferry routes, and flight paths but is adjacent to power-consuming coastal communities, the DOI said.

The Cape Wind energy project would be the first wind farm on the OCS, potentially generating enough power to meet 75% of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island combined.

On April 28, 2010, Salazar signed the Record of Decision for the Cape Wind project, which paved the way for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s decision to issue a commercial wind lease to Cape Wind Associates, a subsidiary of Energy Management Inc. The Record of Decision reflects the commitments that the company must satisfy to ensure that the company’s lease activities are conducted in a manner that prevents or minimizes impacts on environmental or cultural resources.

According to the DOI, the 28-year lease for the area off the coast of Cape Cod will cost Cape Wind Associates $88,278 in annual rent prior to production and a 2% to 7% operating fee during production. The fee is based on revenues from selling the offshore wind energy in regional markets.

The project site is about 5 miles from the mainland shoreline, 13 miles from Nantucket Island, and 9 miles from Martha’s Vineyard. One-fifth of the offshore wind energy potential of the East Coast is located off the New England coast, and Nantucket Sound receives strong, steady Atlantic winds year-round, the DOI said. The project includes a 66.5-mile buried submarine transmission cable system, an electric service platform and two 115-kilovolt lines connecting to the mainland power grid.

Sources: DOI, Cape Wind, POWERnews