Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today approved the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, a 550-megawatt (MW) solar power project to be built in the California desert east of Palm Springs. The solar-photovoltaic facility will create more than 630 jobs at peak construction and infuse an estimated $336 million into the local economy. When built, Desert Sunlight will generate enough energy to power over 165,000 homes.
"The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is the largest photovoltaic facility Interior has approved thus far and, when built, will help power our nation and economy," Secretary Salazar said. "With 12 large-scale solar projects approved in the last 18 months, we continue to make significant strides in spurring innovation, job-creation, and investment in the private sector while strengthening America's energy security."
Located on approximately 4,100 acres of public lands, the solar project will be developed and operated by Desert Sunlight Holdings, LLC, a subsidiary of First Solar Inc. The facility will use First Solar's thin film photovoltaic (PV) technology, which generates electricity with low visual impact, no air emissions, waste production or water use, and has the smallest carbon footprint of any PV technology. An on-site substation and a 230-kiloVolt (kV) generation tie line will connect the project to the Red Bluff substation which will convert the power from 230 kV to 500kV for transmission on Southern California Edison's regional grid.
As part of Interior's commitment to responsible development of renewable energy, the Desert Sunlight project underwent extensive environmental review and mitigation, with the final environmental impact statement issued on April 15, 2011. The Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked in close coordination with Desert Sunlight, the National Park Service and other stakeholders to significantly reduce the proposed project's total footprint from 19,000 acres down to 4,144 acres. In addition, the BLM is requiring that Desert Sunlight provide funding for acquisition and enhancement of more than 7,500 acres of suitable habitat for desert tortoise and other sensitive wildlife species to help mitigate the project's potential impacts.
"The BLM is committed to supporting a clean energy future for America by responsibly developing renewable energy on our country's public lands," BLM Director Bob Abbey said. "And part of that responsibility lies in mitigating the potential impacts of energy development on our wildlife and our lands."
In June, the U.S. Department of Energy granted Desert Sunlight a conditional commitment of a $1.88 billion loan guarantee. The project, about six miles north of the rural community of Desert Center, is expected to generate $336 million for the local economy from indirect benefits, including $197 million in wages. More than three quarters of the total impact will be occur during the construction period, with the remainder taking place over the project's 25-year operating period. The project will also generate about $27 million in sales and property tax revenue to Riverside County.
Today's decision authorizes the BLM to offer Desert Sunlight Holdings a right-of-way grant to use these public lands for 30 years if all rents and other conditions are met. The Record of Decision also approves amendments to the BLM's California Desert Conservation Area Plan, identifying the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm site as available for solar energy development and identifying 14,500 acres in the Project Study Area as unavailable for solar energy development. The BLM oversees more than 1.5 million acres in Riverside County, including nearly a million acres managed for conservation.
The Desert Sunlight project is part of Interior's priority approach to processing existing applications for renewable energy development on public lands in a coordinated, focused manner with full environmental analysis and public review. It is the 12th solar project to advance since Secretary made renewable energy a priority for the Department in March 2009, and the 3rd solar project in 2011. In July, Salazar approved two utility-scale solar developments in California, a wind energy project in Oregon, and a transmission line in Southern California that together will create more than 1,300 construction jobs and provide a combined 550 megawatts of electricity.
The project Record of Decision, available at http://blm.gov/5sjd, also includes the amendment to the California Desert Conservation Area Plan.