US Prepares To Develop Solar Power On Government Land


BILLINGS, Mont. – U.S. officials on Tuesday announced the approval of two large-scale solar projects in California and decided to open up public lands in other Western states for potential solar energy development, as part of the government’s efforts. administration to fight climate change by switching from fossil fuels.

The Home Office has approved Arica and Victory Pass solar projects on federal land in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles. Together, they would generate up to 465 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 132,000 homes, according to San Francisco-based developer Clearway Energy. Approval of a third solar farm slated for 500 megawatts is expected in the coming days, officials said.

The Home Office also called for applications on Tuesday to propose land for development in the “solar power zones” of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, which together cover approximately 140 square miles (360 kilometers squares).

The developer invitation comes as officials of Democratic President Joe Biden promote renewable wind and solar power on public lands and at sea to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. It’s a marked departure from Republican President Donald Trump’s focus on coal mining and oil and gas drilling.

Biden suffered a heavy blow to his climate agenda this week, as opposition from West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin gutted the administration’s central climate and social services legislation. The administration was also forced to resume sales of oil and natural gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and many western states, after a federal judge sided with the Republican-led states who sued when Biden suspended sales.

In a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Home Secretary Deb Haaland did not directly address a question about the failed climate bill and instead highlighted the clean energy provisions in the bipartite infrastructure bill enacted last month.

“We fully intend to achieve our clean energy goals,” Haaland said. She said the Trump administration blocked clean energy by shutting down renewable energy offices at the Bureau of Land Management and undermining long-term agreements, such as a conservation plan tied to solar development in the California desert. .

“We are rebuilding that capacity,” Haaland said.

But without the climate bill, tax incentives for building large-scale solar facilities will drop to 10% of a developer’s total investment costs by 2024, instead of increasing to 30%. said Xiaojing Sun, chief solar researcher at industry consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Residential scale solar incentives would disappear completely by 2024, she said.

“This will significantly slow the growth of solar,” Sun said.

However, she added that streamlining access to federal land could help the industry, as large solar farms located on non-federal land face growing local opposition and heavy zoning laws.

The Bureau of Land Management oversees nearly a quarter of a billion acres of land, mostly in the western states. Agency director Tracy-Stone Manning said boosting renewable energy was now one of her top priorities.

Forty large-scale solar proposals in the West are under consideration, she said.

The agency released a draft plan in early December to reduce rents and other fees paid by companies licensed to build wind and solar projects on public land. Officials were unable to provide an estimate of how much money the developers could save.

In Nevada, where the federal government owns and manages over 80% of state land, large-scale solar projects have faced opposition from environmentalists concerned about damage to plants and animals in swept deserts. by the sun and the winds.

The developers have scrapped plans for what would have been the nation’s largest solar panel installation earlier this year north of Las Vegas, amid concerns from local residents. Environmentalists are fighting another solar project near the Nevada-California border that they believe could harm desert birds and turtles.

Stone-Manning said solar projects on public lands are set up to take into account environmental concerns.

Solar Development Zones were first proposed under the Obama administration, which in 2012 passed plans to bring large-scale solar power projects onto public land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Colorado, USA. Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Authorities have identified nearly 1,400 square miles (3,500 square kilometers) of public land for potential rental of solar power.

If all that land was developed, the office says it could support more than 100 gigawatts of solar power – enough for 29 million homes.

This is almost equal to all of the US solar capacity currently in place.

Current solar production on federal lands is only a small fraction of that amount – just over 3 gigawatts, according to federal data.

In November, the land office granted solar leases for land in the Milford Flats Solar Zone, Utah. Solar leases are expected to be finalized by the end of the month for approximately land at multiple sites in Arizona.

Solar power on public and private lands accounted for about 3% of total US electricity production in 2020. After construction costs have fallen over the past decade, this figure is expected to rise sharply to more. by 20% by 2050, according to the US Energy Information Administration. projects.

The developers warn that costs have increased due to constraints on supplies of steel, semiconductor chips and other materials.

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Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Carson City, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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