Saturday, September 12, 2009

Center Supports Mojave Desert Solar Electricity Projects

Update: BrightSource Energy Inc. has announced it is seeking an alternative site for the project.

The Mojave Desert is 22,000 square miles wide and includes parts of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. The region is viewed as an ideal location in North America for building a new generation of large solar-thermal power plants, left. Such solar electricity producing plants are especially attractive to California, where utilities are required to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and likely 33 percent by 2020.

Oakland-based BrightSource Energy Inc plans to build 2.6 gigawatts of power for California's investor-owned utilities in the Mojave Desert. BrightSource and 18 other companies have petitioned Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) to build in areas that overlap the lands that would be closed to development under legislation being proposed by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA). Those applications represent about 10,000 megawatts of power, or 30 large-scale solar power plants.

Some California-based activists have enlisted Senator Feinstein to push for legislation to establish a national monument in the desert. Senator Feinstein is a longtime advocate of desert conservation and serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approves funds for the Interior Department. Her office is introducing a bill that will cut off 1 million public acres in the desert -- up from a previous estimate of 600,000 acres -- in the eastern Mojave to limit development and to protect a threatened species of desert tortoise and preserve its habitat. The boundaries would stretch from Joshua Tree National Park to Mojave National Preserve, including nearly 100,000 acres of the Interior Department's National Park Service lands and 210,000 acres spread across 20 wilderness areas controlled by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

BLM has received 66 applications for solar, totaling 577,000 acres, most of which would be located in the desert. BLM is also processing 93 wind applications, representing 815,000 acres. Florida Power & Light Co., Cogentrix Energy LLC and Stirling Energy Systems Inc., among others, have filed applications for solar development projects the area. (NYT, 9/9/09)

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