While addressing the Western Governors Association's winter meeting in 2023, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland revealed the Interior Department would be approving 15 onshore renewable energy projects in several western states and public lands. This announcement confirms the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to improving and expanding green energy resources, especially in underserved regions and public lands. Much of this expansion will be overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“The BLM's work to responsibly and quickly develop renewable energy projects is crucial to achieving the Biden-Harris administration's goal of a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “Investing in clean and reliable renewable energy represents the BLM's commitment to addressing climate change and supports direction from the President and Congress to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal production on public lands no later than 2025.”
Major Green Energy Projects From the Biden-Harris “Investing in America” Initiative
Among the green energy projects slated for implementation, development, or study by 2035 are geothermal, solar, and wind-powered facilities designed to contribute substantial amounts of affordable electricity to the nation's power grid. Some are scheduled to become fully operational within a few years, while others will still face political and technological challenges before the switch can be thrown.
Oberon Solar Project
Under a collaborative effort between the BLM, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, California Energy Commission, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oberon Solar Project will soon become fully operational. This 500-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy facility in Riverside County, California, already maintains up to 250 megawatts of battery storage and powers an estimated 146,000 homes in southern California.
The solar energy plant is located on 2,600 acres of public lands managed by the BLM. The site has been approved for renewable energy development through the department's Desert Renewable Energy Commission Plan, which works directly with local and tribal governments to maintain its environmental integrity.
Arlington Solar Energy Center
The Arlington Solar Energy Center is another Riverside County-based facility that is already fully operational. It is expected to generate 364 megawatts of electricity, enough to service 111,000 homes annually and maintain 242 megawatts of battery energy storage. The BLM approved the Arlington Solar Energy Center and the McCoy Solar Project in March 2013.
Cross-Tie 500-kV Transmission Project
Still in its earliest planning stages, the Cross-Tie 500-kV Transmission project will provide power to Beaver, Juab, and Millard Counties in Utah and Lincoln, Nye, and White Pines Counties in Nevada. The BLM has approved a Notice of Availability for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement following government-to-government consultation with the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation to avoid culturally sensitive areas in Spring Valley. The Project will be funded by President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Harquahala Sun Solar Generation Facility
The BLM has also approved the development of a 500-kilovolt gen-tie transmission line on public lands about 60 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona. When completed, the transmission line will distribute utility-scale solar energy from the existing 150-megawatt Harquahala Sun solar generation facility into the grid.
Esmeralda Solar Projects
The BLM has also approved a Notice of Intent to Amend the Resource Management Plan and prepared an associated Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Esmeralda Solar Projects in Esmeralda County, Nevada. A collective of seven solar projects is expected to generate up to 5.3 gigawatts of electricity, enough to service approximately 4 million households. The Esmerelda 7 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement planning area covers 118,630.90 acres of public lands under the management of the BLM.
Wabuska Geothermal Exploration Project
The proposed Wabuska Geothermal Exploration Project in Lyon County, Nevada, is a test program assessing the feasibility of future geothermal development in the region. The site would occupy approximately 54 acres of public lands north of Yerington. If future studies demonstrate the area is suitable for commercial production, new pipelines would be connected to the existing infrastructure of the Whitegrass No. 1 geothermal energy plant on private properties.
Ranegras Plains Energy Center Project
An environmental analysis of the proposed Ranegras Plains Energy Center Project in Yuma, Arizona, has started after a 30-day public scoping period. The application for a right-of-way on public land would allow the construction, operation, and maintenance of a 700-megawatt solar photovoltaic and battery energy storage system.
The proposed project would consist of solar photovoltaic modules, a battery energy storage system, electrical collection lines, a switchyard, operations and maintenance facilities, access roads, and temporary work areas. The Project would eventually connect to the region's electrical grid via an 11-mile-long, 500-kilovolt gen-tie transmission line to the Delaney Colorado River Transmission Ten West Link Series Compensation Station.
Pantheon Solar Project
The BLM has created a two-year segregation of 4,210.6 acres of public lands in Ely, Nevada, as part of a right-of-way application for the Pantheon Solar project. This process prevents the land from being sold or subject to new mining claims until the BLM can complete the variance application evaluation process and NEPA process and reach a decision to either approve, approve with modifications, or deny the application. Following approval, this Project would generate approximately 400 megawatts of renewable energy and include a battery energy storage system with a 950-megawatt capacity.
Empire Wind 2 Project
The private sector is also investing more in the green energy market. Empire Wind, an offshore wind turbine project, is a 50-50 collaboration between Equinor and British Petroleum (BP). The Empire Wind facilities are installed 15-30 miles southeast of Long Island, spanning 80,000 acres, with water depths between 75 and 135 feet. The Project has two phases, Empire Wind 1 and Empire Wind 2, with a potential capacity of The Project's two phases, Empire Wind 1 and 2, have the potential to generate more than 2 GW (816 + 1,260 MW) of wind turbine-generated electrical power.
“Commercial viability is fundamental for ambitious projects of this size and scale. The Empire Wind 2 decision provides the opportunity to reset and develop a stronger and more robust project going forward,” said Molly Morris, president of Equinor Renewables Americas. “We will continue to closely engage our many community partners across the state. As evidenced by the progress at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, our offshore wind activity is ready to generate union jobs and significant economic activity in New York.
A Decade's Worth of Green Energy Development
While some clean energy production facilities mentioned in the Interior Secretary's remarks were created and funded during previous administrations, many of the proposed green geothermal, solar, and wind projects are direct responses to the Biden-Harris “Investing In America” infrastructure initiative. Although still in their earliest stages of development, these sources of clean, affordable electricity have the potential to reduce the demand for fossil fuels as well as provide meaningful employment to thousands of people.
“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to expanding clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America's energy security, and create good-paying union jobs. The projects we are advancing today will add enough clean energy to the grid to power millions of homes,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Through historic investments from President Biden's Investing in America agenda, the Interior Department is helping build modern, resilient climate infrastructure that protects our communities from the worsening impacts of climate change.”