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Interior highlights moves on renewable energy

Solar and wind projects on public lands are ahead of schedule, officials say.

The Interior Department on Tuesday announced progress on a trio of wind and solar power projects they say demonstrate the Obama administration's commitment to tapping the potential of renewable energy using public lands.


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a press conference announced approval of two onshore utility-scale renewable energy projects, a solar project being constructed in Arizona and a wind turbine near San Diego. He also announced the opening of public comment on a company's application to build a major wind power transmission line off the Atlantic Coast.

"We have made steady and swift progress in carrying out President Obama's initiative for a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of renewable energy on public lands," Salazar said. "We have green-lighted 25 projects in the last two years, including solar, wind and geothermal facilities that are generating good jobs, strengthening local economies and laying the foundation for a sustainable energy future. Together, these projects will produce the clean energy equivalent of nearly 18 coal-fired power plants, so what's happening here is nothing short of a renewable energy revolution."

He and other top Interior officials also stressed that the push for renewable energy has been made easier by the reorganization of the department's minerals and energy regulatory offices following the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill.

The Sonoran Solar Energy Project, proposed by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC on public lands in Arizona, is expected to use photovoltaic panels to generate enough power for 90,000 homes while creating 374 jobs in construction, operations and maintenance.

The Tule Wind Project, proposed by a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables and situated 70 miles east of San Diego, is expected to tap wind turbines to supply power to 65,000 homes while creating 337 jobs.

An announcement regarding one offshore project, the Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Transmission Line, invited public comment and competing company bids on the right-of-way requested this spring by Atlantic Grid Holdings LLC. The project aims to develop an 820-mile high-voltage direct current line that would collect power generated by wind turbine facilities off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. It would carry up to 7,000 megawatts of wind turbine capacity to be delivered to the national power grid.

"This proposal to build a 'backbone' for an offshore electrical transmission system is an encouraging sign that there is significant interest in developing the infrastructure to support offshore wind development," said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau. "We will conduct the appropriate analyses to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of issuing renewable energy right-of-way grants."

Salazar said despite some skepticism about the viability of renewable energy, "I am optimistic and bullish." He cited "tremendous unity of purpose" with the governors of the affected states. The wind projects also are being considered by Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York, officials said.

Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey noted that Congress has required Interior to generate up to 10,000 megawatts of power on public lands by 2015, and that his team is set to accomplish that three years ahead of schedule.

Beaudreau cited a staffing up renewable energy specialists in his bureau, noting that the now-defunct Minerals Management Service had only five employees assigned to the topic while Ocean Energy Management now has 30 professionals.