On Friday the California Public Utilities Commission approved a new 500 Kilovolt transmission line from desert areas deep in southeastern California where numerous solar projects have been signed, to urban centers on the coast.
As originally submitted the line was to have also carried electrons from sunny Arizona deserts too, but the project is having to moving forward without its neighbor. Arizona officials were concerned their state could become an "energy farm" for California, using up Arizona's resources and costing the state's rate-payers.
Even just the California portion could help bring many of the backlog of solar projects in our desert onto the grid, now that there is the transmission that they need.
he Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 line was first submitted in 2005. The $537 million, 500 Kilovolt line would span 170 miles in two segments across Southern California – 128 miles along Interstate 10 from North Palm Springs to Blythe, and 42 miles from Romoland to North Palm Springs.
Because it will travel the whole way next to existing power lines and follow the path of Interstate 10 for most of its route, it gets mainstream environmental approval from the NRDC and the Sierra Club.
"There is ample opportunity to site new solar projects on degraded or disturbed lands in the eastern Riverside County area." says Barbara Boyle, the Senior Western Representative of the Sierra Club." By concentrating our development footprint, we can minimize impacts on California's cherished wildlife and recreation resources."
Projects that might feed into this grid could finally start moving. This month, The Bureau of Land Management just began review of two in the area: the 250 MW NextEra Ford Dry Lake in Riverside County and Solar Millennium: two solar thermal parabolic trough plants totaling 1,452 MW.
While over 10 GW (10,000 MW) of solar thermal projects have signed contracts with utilities, only a 50 MW hybrid (with natural gas) has been approved. Jonathan Marshall of PG&E told me last week that as well, Brightsource's Ivanpah has been approved by the CPUC (recent filing), bringing the approved projects to 450 MW.
Powerful fossil-funded groups like the astroturf group The Pacific Foundation and the The Heartland Institute (remember 400 skeptics?) with funding from oil companies and the Koch Foundation, are arrayed against solar.
Local groups, like Basin and Range Watch do not want solar in the desert. Some of these groups believe that city rooftop solar will be enough. (They haven't spent 6 months trying to do that, as I have! It made me realize how much we need utility-scale solar, as far too few individuals have all three of the necessary ingredients: enough interest, enough roof, enough credit)
Final approval comes down to local officials like this district supervisor who comment on local environmental reports and decide whether any solar project will be built in the end.
Only 4% of the 10,000 GW of solar projects that utilities have signed contracts for have been approved, while about 25 GW of natural gas plants have gotten approval in California since 2000.
"This is a big step forward for meeting California's goals to power our homes and businesses with properly sited renewable energy," says Barbara Boyle, the Senior Western Representative of the Sierra Club.
Utility-scale solar will lower carbon emissions with minor impact on wildlife and natural resources, that will be far more damaged by climate change; if we keep approving gas plants instead.