The recent approval of six major solar power projects on public land in California shows that the federal government, state governments, and private enterprise really can work together. These projects were fast-tracked after California and the Department of the Interior joined together to make them happen. The projects are eligible for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and can also get tax credits. Environmental regulations are stringent with the result that the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council support them.
When completed, the combined power generation will be 2.8 GW, more than all but the very largest of nuclear plants, powering up to 2 million homes. Plus it will be clean, renewable energy too, no nuclear leftovers to store for tens of thousands of years or toxic emissions from coal. The dirty little secret of power in California is that it often comes from coal plants in other states.
Over 24 GW of solar capacity are now planned, under construction, or operational in the US. I say, let's aim for 100 or 200 GW and really put solar on the map. This isn't just for tree huggers. Creating our own renewable power makes us less dependent on foreign sources of energy (think Middle East dictators), especially if electric vehicles should become prevalent.
Here are the six sites, in descending order of power output:
Blythe Solar Power Project. 1 GW (1000 MW). It will be the largest solar project ever on public land and will use parabolic trough technology, a form of concentrating solar power, also known as solar thermal. The heat of the sun is reflected on tubes filled with oil, which is used to generate steam for the turbines. One advantage of this technology is that the heat can be stored in molten salt and used to create power when the sun isn't shining.
Calico Solar Project. 850 MW, near San Bernardino. A huge solar dish focuses sunlight to a point above the dish where it is converted into power.
Imperial Valley Solar Project. 709 MW. First ever solar energy project approved for public land. Solar dish.
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. 370 MW, Solar thermal power. Near San Bernardino. Arrays of heliostat mirrors focus the heat onto a large tower in the middle of the array, where it is converted to energy.
Genesis Solar Energy Project. 250 MW. Parabolic trough. Riverside County.
Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project. 45 MW near San Bernardino. Photo-voltaic. This is what most think of as solar power, the energy of the sun is immediately and directly converted into DC electricity using semiconductors.
Not only will these projects create locally-produced renewable energy, they will also create jobs during a recession. And they show that in a time of much political squabbling, governments and business can join together and create something of value.