WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Land Management on Friday set aside 40,000 acres of public land in Mohave and La Paz counties for the next two years while they are studied as possible sites for wind- and solar-powered projects.
The land – 38,000 acres in Mohave County and 2,000 acres in La Paz County – will be held out from mining and other claims while studies continue on British Petroleum’s proposed wind farm in the White Hills area of Mohave County and SolarReserve’s solar-power plant near Quartzsite.
Because the projects are on federal land, they need government approval, public input and analysis of potential environmental impact before construction can begin. Neither project is expected to break ground before the end of this year.
BP started looking to Arizona as a potential site for wind power in 2006. Its proposed $1 billion Mohave project would be the company’s first wind farm in Arizona and would cover 45,000 acres in an area 40 miles north of Kingman.
“This was one location that fit the bill very well,” said Daniel Runyan, vice president of business development for BP Wind Energy.
The 500-megawatt wind farm would put up to 283 turbines on the 38,000 acres of BLM land that were “segregated” Friday and would use an additional 7,000 acres of Bureau of Reclamation land for transmission.
BP’s original proposal covered a larger area, but it was scaled back to “lessen the impact to White Hills” in response to public feedback, and because of environmental concerns and possible conflict with existing mining claims, Runyan said. BP expects approval from BLM no later than February 2013 and would begin construction shortly thereafter.
About 180 miles south of the proposed wind farm, SolarReserve’s Quartzsite Solar Energy Project would use 1,675 acres of “virgin desert” to build a 100-megawatt solar-power plant and transmission lines, project director Andrew Wang said.
SolarReserve picked the rural Quartzsite parcel for the $700 million to $800 million project because it is relatively close to growing California energy markets and because it is adjacent to a large transmission line, Wang said.
“You’ve got to have a big piece of flat land and that land has to be as close as possible to a whole lot of transmission,” Wang said. “We have to deliver piggies to market.”
Even though the land near Quartzsite meets many of the typical criteria for solar-power developers, Wang said it does not fall into any of the current federally proposed solar energy zones.
“We chose the site for business reasons and we still think the site is a good one,” he said. “As it turns out, the zones designated for Arizona are kind of small. There are very few zones designated in Arizona compared to California or Nevada.”
Wang said SolarReserve began developing the Quartzsite proposal in 2008. It expects approval by June or July from BLM and the Western Area Power Administration, which needs to OK construction of the project’s half-mile transmission line.
But environmental permits and federal authorization are only “one of the three legs in a tripod,” Wang said. SolarReserve must still find a buyer for its power in order to get financing, but Wang said the company hopes to begin construction by the end of the year.
The segregation announcement, published in two separate notices in Friday’s Federal Register, said the land would be set aside immediately and could not be appropriated for mining or other uses. The segregation will remain in place for two years or until approval for the respective projects is granted or denied by regulators.
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