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Joint programme for renewable energy in California

A new programme will streamline and accelerate the permitting and siting process for large-scale renewable energy projects in California, USA.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Department of the Interior (DoI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced the joint programme at the NextEra Harper Lake solar electric generating facility in Hinkley.

The renewable energy facilitating programme is created by state legislation (SB X8 34), which has been signed into law by the governor.

“Our bold and innovative vision for California has made us a pioneer in renewable energy, green jobs and environmental protection and, as a result, we are seeing an energy revolution in California,” says Schwarzenegger. “California now has more than 240 proposed renewable projects looking to build and create jobs.”

“Today’s action will help speed up the process for some of these large projects to break ground this year and qualify for federal stimulus funding,” he adds. “By working together, we can increase renewable energy development, create thousands of jobs and preserve our state’s cherished natural resources.”

Solar and wind to yield 4.5 GW

Nine fast-track solar projects and three fast-track wind projects are being reviewed in California for DoI’s Bureau of Land Management, says Salazar. The renewable energy projects would provide total capacity of 4.5 GW.

DoI has established Renewable Energy Coordination Offices (including two in California) to expedite reviews on ready-to-go solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands. The offices work closely with state agencies and private developers to ensure timely review of applications, and currently are processing 53 solar applications over 445,000 acres and 90 wind applications (71 for testing and 19 for development) covering 876,000 acres.

The DoI has set aside 1000 miles2 of public lands in 24 Solar Energy Study Areas in the Western USA (four in California over 530 miles2) that are being evaluated for solar energy development. The department has invested US$41 million from the President’s economic recovery plan to facilitate a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of renewable energy on public lands.

State and Federal authorities working together

Salazar said DoI’s collaboration with California reflects the federal priorities and initiatives, citing a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Schwarzenegger last October to expedite and prioritise renewable energy permitting

In addition to longer-term planning efforts, state and Federal agencies are working cooperatively to review an initial set of renewable energy applications which, if approvable, could be permitted in time to meet the deadlines for the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act grants.

There are 240 proposed renewable energy projects in California that could yield 70 GW of energy. These proposed projects include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and small hydro facilities, and half will apply for Recovery Act funds.

For proposed projects seeking federal support, 21 could generate power at utility-sized levels of larger than 200 MW, for a total of 9 GW. Currently, California facilities produce 8 GW of renewable energy.

Officials tour second solar facility

In addition to touring the Harper Lake facility, Schwarzenegger and Salazar toured a 250 MW proposed solar facility, the Abengoa Mojave solar project. The facility could create US$1 billion of capital investment and 1200 jobs in the region.

Renewable energy projects seeking Recovery Act funding can obtain 30% of project cost in Federal support. To qualify, projects must break ground and spend at least 5% of the total project cost in 2010.

“I cannot think of a more appropriate place to underscore that renewable energy is not ‘pie in the sky’ than here at the edge of the Mojave Desert where the largest solar plant in the world is generating clean, cost-efficient renewable energy for California communities,” Salazar says.

“This is the future we are working to achieve - visionary investment in cutting-edge technology; good, solid jobs for American workers; clean energy for American homes, businesses and industry; and renewable resources used efficiently and effectively for the betterment of communities, California and the nation,” he adds.

NextEra formerly named FPL

NextEra co-owns and operates two solar thermal projects in California: Harper Lake and Kramer Junction, as well as 15 wind farms. The Harper Lake facility has been in operation for two decades and generates 160 MW of green power for California utilities, which are required to use renewable energy to produce 20% of their power by 2010 and 33% by 2020.

NextEra has invested US$1.5bn in power generation assets in California, of which US$1bn is in solar and wind projects. NextEra Energy changed its name from FPL Group last month.

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