The Mojave Desert is one of the nation's harshest landscapes, where only the most adapted species -- like Joshua trees and desert tortoises -- can endure the daily barrage of heat and sun. But large portions of the Mojave will soon undergo a character transformation as energy firms prepare to site dozens of new solar power plants in the desert, generating thousands of megawatts of electricity for California's growing population and economy. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Southern California is poised to become the world's solar power capital as the Obama administration continues to stamp its approval on large-scale renewable energy projects across the Mojave and Colorado deserts.
Since Aug. 1, the Bureau of Land Management has issued final environmental impact statements (EISs) for three commercial solar plants that, once built, will cover nearly 20,000 acres of BLM land in the desert regions and produce enough electricity to power nearly 1.6 million homes.
Final EISs were issued on Friday to Tessera Solar's 850-megawatt Calico Solar plant and BrightSource Energy Inc.'s 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Both plants are to be built in sparsely populated eastern San Bernardino County, California's largest county.
The Calico and Ivanpah EISs follow the release of a final environmental impact statement for Tessera Solar's 709-megawatt Imperial Valley project in Imperial County, which borders Arizona and Mexico in the southeast corner of the state (Land Letter, Aug. 5).
While the issuance of a final EIS does not authorize construction, which is a state responsibility, it removes the last major regulatory hurdle in getting a large-scale energy project involving federal land off the ground.
Collectively, the Tessera and BrightSource projects would produce more than triple the amount of solar power currently produced in the United States. And they are just the first of more than a dozen plants nearing final approval on federal lands in Arizona, California and Nevada.