Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved the first large-scale solar energy project planned for federally managed public land in Nevada.
Construction of the solar photovoltaic power plant, a project acquired this year by Arizona-based First Solar Inc., is expected to create about 300 new jobs at the site near the gambling resort of Primm, about 40 miles south of Las Vegas.
The Silver State North Solar Project calls for construction of a 50-megawatt power plant (60 MW of DC output), using First Solar's thin-film PV modules. It is the second large solar plant approved for the Ivanpah Valley near the California-Nevada state line in the past two weeks, and the fourth on desert land overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management, part of the Interior Department.
The 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a solar thermal power plant, has been approved for construction by the company BrightSource on the California side of the line about 7 miles from the Silver State North installation.
First Solar also plans to later develop another 350 megawatts at the Silver State site, which would require additional environmental review.
The Bureau of Land Management has granted a right of way for the initial Silver State North Solar Project, and construction could begin by the end of the year.
Combined, the two Ivanpah Valley solar power plants now approved are expected to result in about 1,400 new construction jobs in the Mojave Desert region, where construction employment has been devastated by the recession. The work sites are within commuting distance of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, but are a farther drive from smaller cities in California and Arizona.
“Silver State is one of several renewable energy projects in the pipeline that will help Nevada and the nation create jobs as we build a clean-energy economy,” Mr. Salazar said in signing the department's Record of Decision. “This project will provide renewable energy that will help meet our nation’s growing demand as we strive to become energy independent.”
The first phase of the Silver State project will consist of the construction and operation of the solar photovoltaic plant and associated facilities on slightly more than 600 acres of public land. The electricity generated from the plant is expected to supply power for about 15,000 homes, and will be sold to the Nevada market through a power purchase agreement between the developer and NV Energy. It will connect to NV Energy’s existing electrical grid.
The approval of the project includes a plan accepted by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the development company to relocate any desert tortoises found on the site. In a survey last spring, seven tortoises were found in the area where the first phase of the project is to be constructed. It is expected that about a dozen tortoises may be found and moved from the development area.
“The BLM is proud to play a major role in our nation’s quest to capture more renewable energy resources here at home,” said the bureau's director, Robert V. Abbey, in a news release. “Through wise planning and engagement with local communities and stakeholders, we can support large-scale solar development on public lands while protecting valuable natural and cultural resources. If we are smart from the start, we can capture America’s renewable energy resources in the right way and the right places.”
Some conservation groups have opposed large desert solar plants, urging instead that policies be enacted to encourage more rooftop and other "distributed generation" from installations closer to where power is used.
In June 2009 Mr. Salazar, with the support of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other federal and state officials, launched “fast-track” initiatives for solar development on western public lands. The bureau identified 14 solar fast-track projects, including the Silver State Solar Project, that could be approved by the end of 2010 and qualify for federal financing aid.
The project was initially proposed by NextLight Renewable Power and was acquired by First Solar during the summer. It is expected to generate about $250,000 in annual tax revenue for Clark County, Nev.
The Silver State project's first phase will take up 618 acres. The Bureau of Land Management said it oversees more than 2.5 million acres in Clark County, including more than 1.1 million acres managed for conservation. This includes more than 709,000 acres of habitat the bureau has designated primarily for the conservation of the threatened desert tortoise.
The completed Silver State project would generate a total of about 400 megawatts at the site about 2 miles east of Primm. Unlike the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on the California side of the line, the Silver State project is to have low visibility because it will consist of ground-mounted solar panels. The Ivanpah SEGs plant will use "power tower" technology in which mirrors are used to create heat to power steam-driven turbine-generators. The California project's planned power towers are more than 400 feet high.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which authorized the bureau to issue rights of way for the generation, transmission or distribution of electric energy on public lands, was signed by President Gerald R. Ford in October 1976. More recent laws signed by President Barack Obama specifically encourage the development of solar and other renewable energy, a policy approach also supported for national security reasons by top U.S. military leaders. Many military bases in the Southwest, including Nellis Air Force Base adjacent to Las Vegas, already are home to large solar PV arrays, and more are planned.
The U.S. Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management are working on a broad study that could be used to guide more extensive utility-scale solar development while reducing environmental effects in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.
First Solar, the company developing the Silver State project, this week announced plans to open two new manufacturing plants, one in the United States and one in Vietnam. The company, headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., now employs about 1,100 workers at an Ohio manufacturing site. The new U.S. plant, the location of which has not yet been announced, would create about 600 more jobs, First Solar said. The company also is planning several utility-scale solar PV power plants in California.