Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved a transmission line, access road and substation on public lands that will connect a 150-megawatt solar energy project to the power grid in California. The proposed project, Rice Solar Energy Project, will be built on private land in Riverside County and, when constructed, the facility is expected to power 68,000 homes, create up to 450 jobs, and generate more than $48 million in state and local tax revenue over the first 10 years of operation.
“The Rice Solar Energy Project is yet another example of how we can strengthen local economies by generating good jobs and reliable power as we strive to become energy independent,” Secretary Salazar said. “I am pleased to approve this project as we move toward a sustainable clean energy future.”
Proposed by Rice Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of SolarReserve LLC, the thermal “power tower” facility will be located on 1,410 acres of previously disturbed private land near Blythe. The above-ground 230 kilovolt transmission line that crosses eight miles of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will connect with the Western Area Power Administration’s Parker-Blythe #2 transmission line. The project’s innovative molten salt storage system can capture solar energy and deliver power to the grid even after the sun goes down.
The project has undergone extensive environmental review and reflects strong efforts to mitigate potential environmental impacts. SolarReserve will be required to fund the acquisition and enhancement of 1,522 acres to compensate for impacts to desert tortoise habitat on private and public land.
“Mitigation is a key priority for us as we stand up renewable energy across the country,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “In addition, this project will be on an abandoned airfield near Blythe. By siting it on already disturbed land, we are able to do something the public has told us is a priority — avoiding impacts to undisturbed areas in the desert.”
Salazar’s signing of the Record of Decision for this project is the latest in a series of solar, wind, geothermal and transmission facility approvals resulting from Interior’s renewable energy program. This priority approach to renewable energy development on public lands processes existing applications in a coordinated, focused manner with full environmental analysis and public review.
In the past two years, this approach has enabled Interior to approve 22 major renewable energy projects, including 13 commercial-scale solar energy facilities that combined will create about 8,600 construction and operational jobs and produce nearly 5,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power approximately 1.5 million American homes.
The Rice Solar Energy Project is one of the projects jointly processed through the BLM and the California Energy Commission cooperative model. It was licensed by the Commission on December 15, 2010. The Western Area Power Administration has served as the lead NEPA agency reviewing the project, with BLM as a cooperating agency.
Because the development on private land is connected to the federal Right of Way for the transmission line and cannot proceed without Interior approval, the Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment had to consider the impacts of the entire generation and transmission project, including the components located on private lands.