2 new utility-scale solar power plants approved for Nevada and California

Solar panel manufacturer & solar project developer First Solar has finally received approval from the US Department of the Interior to build 2 utility-scale solar PV projects totaling 550MW in capacity. The plants are to be constructed across the border from one another in the states of Nevada and California. Approval for the plants was delayed amid deliberations as to how to mitigate their impact on the threatened desert tortoises that inhabit the region that the project sites are to be located in.

The first project–called the Stateline Solar Plant–will be in located San Bernardino county of California and will be 300MW, while the Silver State South Solar Plant across the border in Nevada will have a capacity of 250MW. Both projects will require a total of 1653 hectares of land with the Nevada project taking up the most space of 971 hectares.

In terms of power generation and contribution to the national grid, the Nevada plant is expected to generate enough clean electricity to power approximately 80,000 homes; the California plant will produce enough for about 90,000. To connect the power to the national grid, the project will use a 220-kilovolt transmission line of 4.3 kilometres. The owners of the plants will benefit from a 20 year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with utility Southern California Edison, guaranteeing a steady income for 2 decades after commissioning.

The two projects are just the most recent of around 50 large-scale solar projects to be approved to be build on US public lands since 2009–others include the recently commissioned Ivanpah, plus the still-under-construction Crescent Dunes and Blythe solar plants. The majority of these plants are being built USA’s southwestern desert regions, which are the most sunlight-rich parts of the country.

Despite their ‘green’ image, however, many of these plants have faced strong opposition from environmental groups looking to preserve the unique desert landscapes and their non-human inhabitants–of which the desert tortoise is the most noteworthy. Given these considerations, in 2011 the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) created a map of preliminarily greenlighted ‘Solar Zones‘ in order to streamline the approval process.

Nevertheless, as part of a compromise made with the federal government, First Solar scaled down the size of the Silver State South project by 100MW; the company will also be required to contribute over $3.6 million for activities and studies related to the protection of the tortoise.

Top image: Silver State Solar Plant site map

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