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Riverside Solar Plants Get Federal Approval

Sullivan Solar Power

Two solar energy generating projects in Riverside County took a big step forward in the development process after receiving approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the decision in March regarding the McCoy Solar Energy Project and the Desert Harvest Solar Farm. Together, the two plants would be based in the county's Riverside East solar zone, which is made up of 148,000 acres of mostly public land between Blythe and the Joshua Tree National Park. Solar zones are those areas of land deemed most suitable for solar power projects.

The 7,700-acre McCoy Solar Energy Project would produce electricity for about 225,000 homes through its 750-megawatt photovoltaic plant. Built by NextEra Energy, reports say the facility would provide 500 jobs during construction, plus another 34 positions when the plant is operational. NextEra is buying another 4,500 acres for the protection of endangered species.

The Desert Harvest Solar Farm, from EDF Renewable Energy, would install solar panels with technology to help track the sun on its 1,200 acres. The resulting 150 megawatts of power could supply electricity for about 45,000 homes. Job creation numbers are 250 for the construction phase, plus eight operational jobs.

Both McCoy and Desert Harvest are still working to develop financing and purchase power agreements with local utility companies. They are also waiting to see the outcome of a lawsuit over Riverside County's $450-per-acre solar development fee.

Both projects were on the fast track for the Department of the Interior, after President Obama announced the We Can't Wait initiative in August 2012. That initiative called for the quick approval of seven clean-energy projects in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Wyoming.

"These projects now are becoming an example for the rest of the world of what can be done with renewable energy," Salazar said during his announcement of the approvals in San Francisco.

California Gov. Jerry Brown also spoke during the event, saying he wants to ensure the state remains in the forefront of the clean-energy movement.

"Climate change is on the way, and we've got to do something about it," Brown said.

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