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Environmental Non-Profit Endorses First Utility Solar Project

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) holds no power to approve or disapprove of solar projects. Or do they? Fierce opposition from NRDC and other environmental groups has been enough to hold up for years several utility-scale solar projects in the American Southwest, primarily in California. For this reason it is significant to report today that NRDC has come out in favor of its first solar project: the Lucerne Valley Solar Project near Victorville, CA in San Bernardino County.

In her NRDC blog, Johanna Wald, a senior attorney for the organization, writes that the Lucerne Valley Project “is the first solar power project…that we believe strikes the balance between meeting our clean energy needs and protecting important resources on our public lands.”

The Lucerne solar project passed its final environmental review last Friday. Upon completion, it will produce 45 megawatts of solar power, enough to power 20,000 California homes. The project will also create temporary and permanent jobs in San Bernardino County, which has been hit hard by the recession, maintaining unemployment rates of 14 percent, according to Wald.

While the NRDC maintains that no solar power plant can have zero environmental impact, the Lucerne site has several factors in its favor (in addition to producing clean, emissions-free electricity) helping it to meet “most of [NRDC’s] criteria for a responsibly sited solar project.”

The 516 acres on which the plant is to be built has low value to scenery and wildlife, contains no habitat for designated critical species and no special management areas. It is undeveloped but does contain some disturbed land, apparently the result of mineral exploration. Several old buildings and grades roads already exist, it is relatively close to urbanized areas and the existing electric grid and is designated as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s development corridor. In other words, this land has been made available for some kind of intensive use, and to the NRDC, it seems, there’s no better use than the creation of clean, renewable energy.

This is the first large-scale solar project endorsed by the NRDC, but it is not the first renewable energy project. A transmission line connecting renewable resources in the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles Metro area via the Interstate 10 corridor was also approved.

The 45-MW Lucerne Valley Solar Project will be built by Chevron Energy Solutions, the renewable energy arm of Chevron, one of the world’s largest multinational oil and gas companies.

Photo Credit: Mess of Pottage

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