Obama admin wants more solar and geothermal

Ken Salazar was about “smart from the start.” Sally Jewell, his successor as head of the U.S. Department of the Interior, appears to be claiming “landscape-level approach” as her favorite phrase when it comes to large-scale renewable energy development in the West.Oba

Jewell this week set forth the concept – moving away from project-by-project analysis and embracing whole-ecosystem management across administrative lines – as the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s ongoing pursuit of solar, wind and geothermal power on public lands.

Presidential visit to the Copper Mountain solar plant in Nevada, March 2012 (image via the White House)

“Our nation’s public lands are vast and varied. We need to take a close look at these resources to determine where it makes sense to develop renewable energy and – just as importantly – where it does not,” Jewell said in remarks at the National Clean Energy Summit. “As we double down on the unprecedented progress that the Obama Administration has made on advancing clean energy, the Interior Department has an opportunity not only to cut carbon pollution, but also to advance important conservation goals.”

The idea actually predates Jewell’s arrival and could be glimpsed in the administration’s earlier establishment of Solar Energy Zones, swaths of federal land that were considered safe for projects and where the government was pointing big renewable energy developers. And in fact with her promotion of the landscape-level approach this week, Jewell and the Bureau of Land Management announced an addition to the roster of zones: the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area (REEA) on public lands in Southern California.

“Establishing the West Chocolate Mountains area represents the kind of landscape-level approach that the BLM is committed to,” BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze said in a statement. “Using this approach to site renewable energy projects in the right places is an important part of helping us meet the President’s clean energy goals.”

The BLM said it believes that the 64,058-acre area in the Imperial Valley, the 19th SEZ, could be developed to the tune of more than 3.3 gigawatts of solar power and 150 megawatts of the geothermal power.

And speaking of geothermal: Jewell also gave the go-ahead to a 40-MW geothermal project that would have a footprint on both private and public land in Mono County, Calif., the Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Energy Project. By the roman numeral after the name of the project you won’t be surprised to hear that this is an area where there are already working geothermal plants. According to local reports, concerns were raised about the possible release and accumulation of hydrogen sulfide from new drilling, but the BLM said that such gases would only be released during construction of the plant, not during operations, and in any case would have to be kept under established standards or the project would be stopped.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling