Stateline Solar Farm Draft EIS released

Posted: Nov 27, 2012

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Solar in the desert

The Bureau of Land Management for the second time this month has taken a major step toward approving another commercial-scale solar power project to be built in Southern California.

BLM released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on Friday for the 300-megawatt Stateline Solar Farm Project proposed to be built on 2,143 acres in San Bernardino County, Calif., about 2 miles south of the Nevada border.

The photovoltaic solar plant proposed by Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc. is needed to help California meet its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires all investor-owned utilities in the state to supply 33 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

First Solar is also building the 550 MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm Project on 4,176 acres of federal land in the Sonoran Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. BLM approved the project last year.

BLM will accept public comments on the draft EIS for the Stateline Solar project through Feb. 21, according to the agency. It has scheduled a public hearing on the draft document for Jan. 9 at the Primm Valley Golf Club in Nipton, Calif.

Alan Bernheimer, a spokesman for First Solar, said the company would like to begin construction by mid-2013 and to bring the plant online by late 2016, when it should produce enough electricity to power about 90,000 homes.

The Stateline Solar project is the latest to advance the Obama administration's ongoing effort to use federal land to promote solar, wind and geothermal power. Since 2009, BLM has approved 34 solar, wind and geothermal projects with a total capacity to generate 13,788 MW of electricity, or enough to power nearly 5 million homes.

BLM earlier this month released a final EIS for the Desert Harvest Solar Project, a photovoltaic plant that would cover 1,044 acres of BLM land in Southern California's Riverside County near Joshua Tree National Park and have the capacity to power about 45,000 homes and businesses (Greenwire, Nov. 12).

BLM last month announced that it had already reached a goal set forth in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to approve roughly 10,000 MW of new renewable energy projects on federal land by 2015 (Greenwire, Oct. 9).

In all, the Obama administration has approved 18 solar power projects with a total capacity to produce up to 6,126 MW of electricity, or enough to power 1.8 million homes, according to federal data.

In addition to the Stateline Solar and Desert Harvest projects, BLM is working to finish a final EIS by the end of the year for the 100 MW Quartzsite Solar Energy Project in southern Arizona and the 750 MW McCoy Solar Energy Project, also in Riverside County.

Environmentalists have expressed concern about large-scale solar projects in the region affecting desert tortoise habitat.

The Stateline Solar project would be located just east of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which is under construction. The Ivanpah project ran into problems last year after more federally protected desert tortoises were found at the site than originally estimated, and BLM temporarily suspended construction activity.

But the Stateline Solar project, according to BLM's preferred alternative, has been configured to allow for a larger home range and connectivity area for desert tortoises, including those relocated from the nearby Ivanpah site.

First Solar officials said when the project was announced last year that the company was working with environmental groups to devise a plan that would minimize impacts to tortoises and other natural resources (Land Letter, Aug. 11, 2011).

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