Two Solar Projects Get the Green Light to Bring Clean Energy and Jobs to California

I welcome Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s announcement on Tuesday that he has approved the first two new solar projects on public lands in California in more than two decades. These ventures will help jumpstart America’s transition to clean, sustainable power that is free of toxic emissions and global warming pollution.

But all energy projects—renewable as well as conventional—must be sited carefully and designed wisely. As my colleague Johanna Wald says, they must be smart from the start.

The Chevron Lucerne Valley and the Tessera Solar’s Imperial Valley solar projects have worked hard to minimize their impacts on wildlife, water supplies, and delicate desert landscapes. They also provide valuable lessons the Interior Department can use in the future as it approves more renewable projects on public lands.

The Lucerne Valley offers a good model, for instance, of a project that is smart from the start. The site in San Bernardino County has never been identified as critical habitat for endangered species. Parts of it have already been disturbed by past mineral exploration, and there are several old buildings and graded roads on the site. This is not a pristine landscape; it is a parcel of land within a Bureau of Land Management-designated development corridor.

Tessera Solar, meanwhile, agreed to move its project out of sensitive desert washes and scale back to 709 megawatts. The company met with NRDC and our partners and agreed to proceed with the project in two separate phases. The company also agreed to a number of other measures, all of which will reduce the solar plant’s impacts on the environment.

In addition to generating enough clean electricity to power as many as 530,000 homes, the Tessera Solar project will also generate jobs: more than 600 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs.

Pollution-free power and American jobs. This is the promise of renewable energy.

These two solar projects, along with the wind farm approved earlier this year, are helping America make good on that promise.

But to tap the full potential of renewables, we need policies that unleash investment. One reason these two solar projects have moved forward is that California requires utilities to generate 33 percent of their power from renewables by 2020. Renewable companies know there is a stable and growing market for their product in California and their investment will pay off. Meanwhile, people will see the cost of clean energy go down as the number of renewable projects goes up.

All Americans should have access to clean energy and green jobs, and passing a national clean energy and climate bill that encourages well sited renewable projects would bring those benefits home.