Salazar Activates First Solar Power Project on U.S. Land

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar activated today a 50-megawatt power plant that was developed by First Solar Inc. and is the the first on U.S. public land.

The Silver State North project in Nevada’s Ivanpah Valley, south of Las Vegas, is owned by Enbridge Inc., Canada’s largest oil-pipeline company, and generates enough electricity for about 9,000 homes, according to a statement today.

The U.S. Interior Department has approved 29 wind, solar and geothermal projects on public land since 2009 as part of President Barack Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, Salazar said. With Silver State, the U.S. is on pace to install 10,000 megawatts of non-hydroelectric renewable power capacity by this year, three years earlier than mandated by Congress.

“Today is a landmark for America, a landmark for the solar industry and a landmark for how we use our public lands,” Salazar said in a speech dedicating the project. “We are making believers out of skeptics. A lot of people would have said three years ago that this day would never come.”

The agency has approved 16 solar projects with 5,636 megawatts of capacity, eight geothermal plants with 424 megawatts and five wind farms with capacity of 548 megawatts. The Interior Department plans to review 17 additional proposals this year for about 7,000 megawatts.

Silver State North is one of four projects First Solar is developing on public land, Alan Bernheimer, a spokesman for the Tempe, Arizona-based company, said today in a telephone interview. The 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm under construction in Riverside County, California, is expected to begin producing electricity by 2015.

Two others, the 300-megawatt Stateline Solar Farm in California and the 300-megawatt Silver State South, are in permitting, Bernheimer said. First Solar is the world’s largest producer of thin-film solar panels.

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