Sonoran Solar project approval means much needed clean energy can help power Arizona homes

Dec 20, 2011

Details of the Department of Interior’s progress on renewable energy and the  approval of a key renewable energy project in Arizona were announced today by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The Record of Decision for the Sonoran Solar application in Arizona provides approval by the Bureau of Land Management for the proposed project, the first on public lands in Arizona, which could provide enough clean power for nearly 90,000 homes in the Phoenix region. This decision marks the end of a year where utility scale renewable energy has gained significant traction.

“At a time when some in Congress have turned their backs on renewable energy, it is important for the public to know that clean energy is working in America,” said Chase Huntley, Director of Renewable Energy Policy at The Wilderness Society.  “What the leadership and staff at the Department of the Interior have accomplished towards meeting Congressional targets for renewable energy from our nation’s lands and waters is  a paradigm shift. In approving more renewable energy than any administration in history, they have succeeded where others have failed. And, most importantly, they’ve done so clearly understanding that we do not have to choose between renewable energy and our irreplaceable natural heritage.”

The Sonoran Solar Project does not conflict with proposed wilderness areas and has limited impacts to wildlife habitat.  The project would also be sited near 500 kV transmission lines and a nearby substation, meaning that less infrastructure will need to be developed from the ground up. The PV technology chosen by the company also drastically reduces water use and land requirements and significantly reduces impacts to wildlife habitat, wildlife movement corridors and washes and floodplains.

“We are excited to see the Sonoran Solar project proposal moving forward with greatly reduced impacts due to the decreased size and water use of the new photovoltaic alternative,” said John Shepard, Senior Advisor with the Sonoran Institute. “ With BLM approval in hand, we also hope to see NextEra acquire the additional agreements it needs to get this project built and producing clean energy in a timely manner.”

Today’s announcement amplifies the need for Congress to take action to ensure that the solar industry continues to benefit from programs established to help ensure stable financing and support to see utility scale renewables come to fruition.

“The true measure of success will be projects built, not permits issued—and for that, Congress needs to extend critical tax incentives including the Treasury Grant Program and the Production Tax Credit in any final tax deal,” said Huntley. “But, in permitting these projects and promoting responsible zone-based development of the public lands, the Interior Department is blazing a trail that will pay dividends for years to come.”

Chase Huntley