US signs historic deal for solar panel plants

Two massive solar energy plants have been approved for development in California - the first of their kind to be built on public land in the country.

Both projects received the green light from the Department of the Interior – the government branch responsible for managing the US’ vast natural resources – last week, in a move that US authorities are labelling both ‘historic’ and ‘momentous’.

Endorsing the projects, Ken Salazar, the US secretary of the interior, said the two schemes were just the first of a series of green energy initiatives planned for public lands, currently being reviewed by his department.

Collectively the two projects, built on remediated brownfield sites, are expected to create 1,000 new jobs and generate up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy – enough to power over half a million American homes.

“These projects are milestones in our focused effort to rapidly and responsibly capture renewable energy resources on public lands,” Mr Salazar said.

“[They] advance the President’s agenda for stimulating investment in cutting-edge technology, creating jobs for American workers, and promoting clean energy for American homes, businesses and industry.”

Salazar’s sanctioning grants access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for a 30-year period, to build and operate the solar plants. The first site – the Imperial Valley Solar Project – was proposed by Texas-based Tessera Solar and will use over 28,000 solar dishes to generate electricity.

California’s own Chevron Energy Solutions will deliver the second site – the Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project – which will incorporate 40,500 solar panels.

In fact, approval for the two schemes had been fast-tracked thanks to a government commitment to spur large-scale production of renewable energy on public lands.

Salazar went on to say that with over 11million acres of public land in the California desert – larger than the entire landmass of Denmark – his Department of the Interior held a “special responsibility” to ensure public land contributed to the country’s green energy ambitions.

“These [two] projects, while a significant commitment of public land, actually represent less than one-hundredth of one percent of that total area,” Salazar added. “Given the many benefits, the extensive mitigation measures, and the fair market value economic return, approval of these projects is clearly in the public interest.”

It has not yet been announced when construction work on the two sites will start.

Sam Plester

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