December 19, 2017 Read More →

As Trump Looks the Other Way, U.S. Solar Surges

Washington Post:

You may have missed the fact that exactly one week ago two major solar power plants, with a combined generating capacity of 179 megawatts, shifted into commercial operation on Bureau of Land Management property in southern Nevada. It’s totally understandable, since the Interior Department didn’t even issue a news release (although its Nevada state director did show up for the formal opening ceremony, and provides a quote for a solar firm’s publicity package).

The launch of Switch Station 1 and Switch Station 2, which deliver electricity to massive data centers in Las Vegas and Reno, highlights the fact that solar power is still expanding in the United States even if President Trump rarely mentions it (despite his talk of a solar-powered border wall). The nation’s solar output rose 47 percent for the first three quarters of 2017, according the Energy Department — and the switch stations mark the first utility-scale energy facility built on BLM land through a streamlined process the Obama administration established in 2014.

Backers of the project — which include First Solar (which built it); EDF Renewable Energy (which runs it); and the Nature Conservancy (which developed the plan to offset its environmental impacts) — say it proves that federal land has tremendous renewable energy potential if the planning is done right. The project lies within the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, one of 19 zones that Interior identified as ideal for large projects, and siting it there cut the permitting time in half and reduced its cost to 3.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

The span of the two stations stretches across about 1,797 acres. It boasts 1,980,840 solar panels and generates enough energy to meet the demand of 46,000 homes. Switch, a major data center operator, is tapping the energy as part of its plan to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Deploying renewable energy on federal land ranked as a high priority during the previous administration. A year ago, then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the department had approved 60 such utility-scale projects, including 36 solar, 11 wind and 13 geothermal plans.

The Trump administration’s emphasis on spurring fossil fuel production nationwide has raised questions about the outlook for renewable energy projects on federal land and in federal waters.

More: Solar power is forging ahead, even if Trump doesn’t talk about it

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