Tuesday, May 8, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Silver State Solar North project
Wearing his trademark cowboy hat, blue jeans and a Bureau of Land Management bolo tie, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday celebrated the opening of the first large-scale solar installation to begin operation on federal lands.
Salazar took a brief tour among the hundreds of thousands of panels that make up the Silver State North Solar project, which covers nearly 600 acres of federal land near Primm.
“This is a historic day. ... This is a landmark project that represents a bold step in achieving the energy future that we want in the United States,” Salazar said. “This is a model of industry and government working together to support the local economies in the Ivanpah Valley.”
Public lands have long been used for power transmission lines and for oil and gas drilling but, prior to 2009, never for renewable energy projects.
The Obama administration has made opening public lands to renewable energy projects a priority as part of its “all of the above” energy strategy, which calls for the country to utilize all of its energy resources, from natural gas to wind power, Salazar said.
Building on federal land comes with its own set of challenges — an extensive relocation project was required to protect desert tortoises near the Silver State Solar North site — but Salazar said the government had streamlined its regulatory process and was crafting a blueprint that would accelerate development of renewable energy projects.
“This demonstrates that it can be done,” Salazar said. “In the future, (the development) is going to be faster. We’re cutting the red tape.”
There are currently 29 proposals to develop renewable energy projects, including 16 solar fields, on public lands, he said.
Construction on Silver State Solar North began in June 2011, and Monday morning, Salazar helped celebrate its completion by flipping a ceremonial switch to “power up” the field.
Owned by Canada-based energy company Enbridge, Silver State Solar North is made up of more than 800,000 solar panels that have the capacity to generate 50 megawatts of energy. It will produce about 122,000 megawatt hours annually, enough to power about 9,000 Nevada homes. Currently in the final phases of testing, it will begin commercial operations later this month.
The energy from the installation will stay in-state, thanks to a 25-year power purchase agreement signed by NV Energy.
Officials hope that Nevada, where about 85 percent of the land is federally owned, will see more similar projects built in the coming years.
“You have to in Nevada because there’s so little private land,” said Tony Sanchez, NV Energy vice president. “It’s complicated and difficult, but we’re ahead of the game and we’re going to continue to be. We learned a lot just from being involved in this project.”
Salazar said it’s important for the private and public sectors to build on the momentum of these early renewable energy projects to avoid a similar situation to the 1970s, when solar projects were done in “fits and starts” and never became broadly accepted.
“We’re on the way now,” he said. “The foundation has been laid. If we can sustain these policies over another three or four years, we will complete the effort to make solar energy forever a part of the energy portfolio for the United States.”