//Solar Power Plants Bloom in the Desert

Solar Power Plants Bloom in the Desert

There has been a 78 percent spike in the number of land-use applications received from solar projects in the millions of desert acres west of the Rocky Mountains according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 2007 it received 125 applications, in 2008 223 applications, which takes it up to about 2.3 million acres of land, according to Greentech Media.

These are mostly for solar power plant projects of 10 megawatts and above. Many of them are listed on a downloadable Excel file here. California garnered the most interest, with 107 applications, the Mojave Desert is apparently a prime piece of real estate in the solar world. Nevada got 71 and Arizona 35. The remainder applied for space in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. You can download a map of proposed California desert solar facilities here (PDF).

Extensive permitting and environmental reviews are required for any project to even break ground. To understand how strict these restrictions are, you only have to know that just two of the 223 candidates have even made it to the environmental review stage: those two were the proposed solar-thermal plants of Oakland, California company BrightSource Energy and Phoenix, Arizona based Stirling Energy Systems, producing 400 and 1,750 megawatts, respectively.

BLM officials have said that the organization needs to hire more staff members to sift through the avalanche of applications but that any growth will depend on the priorities of the incoming Obama administration. To facilitate development in the meantime, California’s state government has looked into easing its permit procedure and streamlining the process used to determine projects’ environmental and economic footprints.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently emphasized the elimination of red tape for cleantech startups. In November, he signed Executive Order S-14-08 aimed at streamlining the approval process for renewable developers, couching it as both an environmental and economic necessity.

Right now, existing solar plants in the Mojave generate about 354-megawatts and power 380,000 homes.

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