So Cal Could Becomes Solar Mecca

California energy officials blessed the fifth and sixth solar power projects in the desert of Southern California, which could make it the sunniest spot in the country for the emerging electricity source.

Eventually, the deserts of Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties could produce enough solar power for more than 3 million homes, according to this recent story in the New York Times.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger embraced the approval of the Genesis and Imperial Valley projects on federal Bureau of Land Management land in Riverside and Imperial counties respectively. If financed and built, they will combine to generate about 2,000 construction and 200 operational jobs.

“Today’s action solidly cements California as the national leader of solar power development,” he said in a statement. "I applaud the California Energy Commission’s decision to approve the construction of these solar projects that will increase our state’s renewable power, create jobs and boost our economy. I look forward to seeing these projects fully built and powering thousands of California homes with clean electricity.”

The two projects bring to six the number of desert-area solar developments approved by the California Energy Commission. Three more await approval before Dec. 31 to qualify for federal stimulus funds.

In addition to the solar thermal projects, there are more than a dozen other large solar photovoltaic and wind projects seeking permits to break ground in California this year, the governor's office said. In contrast to this year, 67 megawatts of utility scale solar were added in 2009 nationwide, and only 34 megwatts in 2008.


Southern California Desert: Solar Central

It's supposed to be 110 degrees today in Fresno, where I sit in an air-conditioned office writing this blog about an even hotter portion of California - a region that could possibly become Solar Central.

Could the desert regions of San Bernardino, Imperial and Riverside counties become the world's largest solar resource? If approved, large-scale solar projects proposed for the isolated federal land will cover nearly 20,000 acres and, according to this New York Times story, generate enough power for 1.6 million houses.

The projects would triple the amount of solar energy produced in the United States, but issues remain. The nine projects, though being fast tracked, face a time crunch. To qualify for federal stimulus funds, they have to be under construction by year's end.

There also are environmental concerns with projects this big, including the existence of endangered species. In this case, the solar operators will have to relocate native desert tortoises.

Could this serve as a model for the central San Joaquin Valley? As more farmland goes out of production, solar companies are talking about moving in. The land is laser flat, close to transmission lines and, as this story says, isn't home to endangered wildlife.

The Westlands Water District already has a proposal in place. An emerging solar industry in the San Joaquin Valley would produce badly needed renewable energy and jobs in a region where power bills are high, incomes are low and the unemployment rate is among the highest in the state.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.