During a keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today underscored the Interior Department's commitment to meeting President Barack Obama's clean energy goals by employing a landscape-level approach that addresses mitigation and conservation objectives. As part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, move our economy toward clean energy sources and begin to slow the effects of climate change, the Interior Department is working to approve 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands by 2020.
"Our nation's public lands are vast and varied. We need to take a close look at these resources to determine where it makes sense to develop renewable energy and -- just as importantly -- where it does not," said Secretary Jewell. "As we double down on the unprecedented progress that the Obama Administration has made on advancing clean energy, the Interior Department has an opportunity not only to cut carbon pollution, but also to advance important conservation goals."
"Working with federal, state, local and tribal governments, as well as leaders from the industry and conservation communities, we can and should take actions to minimize the conflicts that solar, wind and geothermal projects might have with natural and cultural resources, require meaningful mitigation measures when conflict cannot be avoided, and leverage the momentum to enhance landscape-level conservation objectives," she added.
In her remarks, Jewell cited the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), as an example of landscape-level planning. This unprecedented state-federal collaborative effort, which covers over 20 million acres in California's Mojave and Colorado Deserts, will identify "development focus areas" for renewable energy while providing for the conservation and management of the unique and important plant and wildlife communities in this desert region. A draft of the DRECP is expected later this year.
As part of the landscape-level approach, Secretary Jewell also announced that the Interior Department has approved the establishment of the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area (REEA) on public lands in California's Imperial Valley. This REEA will prioritize the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands for the exploration and development of solar and geothermal energy. The BLM estimates that the 64,058-acre area has the potential to develop over 3,330 megawatts of solar power and 150 megawatts of the geothermal power.
"Establishing the West Chocolate Mountains area represents the kind of landscape-level approach that the BLM is committed to," said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. "Using this approach to site renewable energy projects in the right places is an important part of helping us meet the President's clean energy goals."
The REEA creates a new Solar Energy Zone, which is part of the Obama Administration's efforts to facilitate solar energy development by identifying areas in six Western states with high solar potential, few resource conflicts and access to existing or planned transmission.
The Western Solar Plan, approved in October 2012, created 17 Solar Energy Zones with incentives for development within those zones and a process for considering additional zones. Interior approved an 18th Solar Energy Zone in January, with the Arizona Restoration Design Energy Project. The West Chocolate Mountains REEA is the third Solar Energy Zone in California and brings the national total to 19.
Secretary Jewell also announced that the BLM has approved a new 40 megawatt geothermal project in California. The Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Energy Project, located in Mono County, California, will construct up to 16 new production and injection wells, multiple pipelines and an electric transmission line. Ormat Nevada Inc. will develop the project on public and private land, and the project will generate more than 180 construction and permanent jobs. When completed, this project would produce enough energy to power 36,000 homes.
"These projects are significant steps forward in the President's all-of-the-above energy strategy and marks continued progress on his call for action on climate change," said Secretary Jewell. "Harnessing the vast renewable resources on the public lands will create jobs, increase our energy security and help reduce carbon pollution."
Including the Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Energy Project, Interior has now approved 47 solar, wind and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands, since 2009, including associated transmission corridors and infrastructure to connect to established power grids. When built, these projects add up to more than 13,300 megawatts -- enough energy to power 4.6 million homes and support more than 19,000 construction and operations jobs.
At the same time, under the Obama Administration's all-of-the-above energy strategy, domestic oil and gas production has grown each year since President Obama has held office, with domestic oil production currently higher than any time in two decades; natural gas production at its highest level ever; and renewable electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources having doubled. Combined with recent declines in oil consumption, foreign oil imports now account for less than 40 percent of the oil consumed in America -- the lowest level since 1988.