Secretary Jewell, Director Kornze “Flip the Switch” on Desert Sunlight Solar Farm

Nation's largest solar project on public lands generating clean, renewable energy

Last edited 09/29/2021

DESERT CENTER, Calif. – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Director of the Bureau of Land Management Neil Kornze today joined California state and industry leaders to “flip the switch” on the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, the nation's largest solar project on public lands that is now delivering clean, renewable energy to American consumers.

Now operating at full capacity, the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is providing 550 megawatts of electricity to the grid, enough energy to power 160,000 average homes. The facility is estimated to displace 614,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent to taking 60,000 cars off the road.

“Solar projects like Desert Sunlight are helping to create American jobs, develop domestic renewable energy and cut carbon pollution,” said Secretary Jewell. “I applaud the project proponents for their vision and entrepreneurial spirit to build this solar project and commend Governor Brown for implementing policies that take action on climate change and help move our nation toward a renewable energy future.”

Desert Sunlight is the sixth solar project approved on public lands that is now operational. Together with wind, solar and geothermal, the renewable energy projects built on public lands since 2009 are producing over 2,200 megawatts of power, or enough to power almost 700,000 average homes. An additional 2,500 megawatts is currently under construction, including 8 solar projects in California and Nevada.

Public lands administered by Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), especially the solar-rich states in the Southwest, play a key role in the President's Climate Action Plan to approve 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public land by 2020, as well as in meeting California's renewable energy goals.

“This is an important day for solar energy, California and for the nation,” said Director Kornze. “The Desert Sunlight project is an example of how industry and government can work together to strengthen local economies, generate good jobs and provide affordable, reliable, sustainable power.”

Nationwide, the BLM has approved 52 utility-scale renewable energy projects since 2009 – including 29 solar projects – with a total capacity of over 14,000 megawatts. If built as approved, these projects would provide more than 21,000 jobs and power about 4.8 million homes. Before 2009, there were no solar projects approved on public lands.

Desert Sunlight is located on about 4,100 acres managed by the BLM in Riverside County, about 70 miles east of Palm Springs and six miles north of the rural community of Desert Center. The facility uses more than eight million First Solar photovoltaic modules to generate power with no air emissions, no waste production and no water use. The thin film technology has the smallest carbon footprint of any photovoltaic technology. The renewable energy is sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Southern California Edison under long-term contracts.

The BLM issued its right-of-way grant for Desert Sunlight in August 2011. Developed by First Solar and owned by NextEra, the project employed an average of 440 workers during construction. NextEra calculates about 3.6 million man-hours of work were required to complete the facility and more than 40 California businesses contributed to the project, selling materials, equipment, utilities, labor, housing and food services.

As part of the Interior Department's commitment to responsible development of renewable energy, the Desert Sunlight project underwent extensive environmental review and mitigation. The BLM worked in close coordination with Desert Sunlight, the National Park Service and other stakeholders to significantly reduce the proposed project's total footprint down from the proposed 19,000 acres. The BLM is requiring that Desert Sunlight provide funding for acquisition and enhancement of more than 7,500 acres of suitable habitat for desert tortoise and other sensitive wildlife species to help mitigate the project's potential impacts.

The BLM oversees more than 1.5 million acres in Riverside County, including nearly a million acres managed for conservation. Statewide, the BLM manages more than 15 million acres in California, including over 5 million acres managed for conservation.

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