Business

06.07.13

Interior Department Announces Plans for Renewable Energy Projects on Federal Lands

Critics have accused the Obama administration of being unwilling to exploit federal lands for energy. But the Interior Department is now taking aggressive action to promote green-power development in areas it controls.

For the past few years, the energy industry and its political allies have complained that President Obama refuses to open up federal land for oil and gas drilling fast enough. But that doesn’t mean the administration is sitting on its hands when it comes to exploiting the power-generating potential of federal lands. This week, the Department of Interior, in one of the first high-profile moves under Sally Jewell, the former chief executive of REI, announced some truly massive green-power plans.

On Monday, Jewell approved three massive renewable-energy projects, with a combined generating capacity of 520 megawatts, on a combined 16,600 acres of federally owned land in Arizona and Nevada. “These projects reflect the Obama Administration's commitment to expand responsible domestic energy production on our public lands and diversify our nation's energy portfolio,” Jewell said in a statement. “Today’s approvals will help bolster rural economies by generating good jobs and reliable power and advance our national energy security.”

The projects are as follows: The Midland Solar Energy project in Nevada, a 350-megawatt field (capable of supplying more than 100,000 homes), is to be developed by Boulder Solar Power. In Arizona, Quartzite Solar Energy, a subsidiary of California-based Solar Reserve, will develop the 100-megawatt Quartzsite Solar Project as a concentrating solar power plant. (In concentrating solar plants, panels reflect the sun’s rays into a central heating tower)

Jewell also approved a 70-megawatt geothermal plant on federal land in Nevada.

But the proposed projects will do more than make green enthusiasts happy—they will create many jobs. The department estimates that almost 1,000 construction jobs and 73 permanent jobs will be created from the plants.

The construction won’t be financed until the government gets its power-purchase agreements with utilities in order, but it’s already announced that it’s considering permits for 23 other renewable-energy-related projects, some of which utilize wind power, that will be placed on both public and Native American lands.

Also this week, Jewell announced that the government will lease available land off the shore of Rhode Island for commercial wind-energy use. The almost 165,000 acres of land on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf will be auctioned for lease in late July.