WASHINGTON, D.C. — Capping three years of efforts to develop renewable energy resources on public lands both onshore and offshore, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced approval of two utility-scale renewable energy projects — one wind and one solar — that, when built, will generate nearly 500 megawatts of power, or enough to power 150,000 homes, and create 700 jobs during peak construction. Salazar also announced the first major step in developing an offshore wind transmission line on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.
The three announcements made regarding renewable energy include the following:
•Salazar approved the Sonoran Solar Energy Project, proposed by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, making it the first-ever project approved for construction on public lands in Arizona. The photovoltaic panels are expected to generate 300 megawatts, or enough to power 90,000 homes. The solar project will create over 374 jobs through construction operation and maintenance.
•Salazar approved the Tule Wind Project, located 70 miles east of San Diego, that will produce 186 megawatts of electricity via 62 wind turbines sited on public lands, or enough to power up to 65,000 homes. Proposed by a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, the project is expected to create 337 jobs.
•Salazar announced the next steps toward developing a Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Transmission Line. Atlantic Grid Holdings, LLC has requested a right-of-way grant to develop a high-voltage direct current line that would collect power generated by wind turbine facilities off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The line would enable up to 7,000 megawatts of wind turbine capacity to be delivered to the grid. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened a public comment period on the potential environmental effects of the proposal, and is also asking whether other developers are interested in constructing transmission facilities in this area in order to determine whether there is overlapping competitive interest.
“This proposal to build a ‘backbone’ for an offshore electrical transmission system is an encouraging sign that there is significant interest in developing the infrastructure to support offshore wind development,” said BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau. “We will conduct the appropriate analyses to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of issuing renewable energy right-of-way grants.”Salazar’s announcements are the latest in a series of solar, wind, geothermal and transmission facility approvals resulting from Interior’s renewable energy program that has focused the Department’s resources to prioritize and process existing applications in a coordinated, focused manner with full environmental analysis and public review.
In the past two years, Salazar has used this approach to approve 25 major renewable energy projects on public lands. When constructed, the projects are expected to create nearly 12,000 construction and operational jobs and produce nearly 6,200 megawatts of energy, enough to power 2.2 million American homes. These projects include 15 commercial-scale solar energy facilities, three wind projects and seven geothermal plants.
Both projects approved underwent extensive environmental review and reflect strong efforts to mitigate potential environmental impacts, such as reducing the wind project’s footprint by half and altering the solar project’s technology to reduce water usage from the 3,000 acre/feet proposed under the original plan, to about 33 acre/feet under the approved alternative.
“Avoiding impacts to resources is a key priority for us as we stand up renewable energy across the country,” said Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey. “The decision to approve these projects includes requirements to avoid or minimize impacts to cultural resources. For the Tule project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM worked with the company to minimize potential impacts to golden eagles by requiring intensive eagle studies to guide siting of wind turbines and by including measures to address avian issues if they arise.”