Solar spree

  • SunCatchers, developed at Sandia National Laboratories, are slated for BLM land in the Imperial Valley.

    Randy Montoya /Sandia
  • Flat-tailed horned lizard.

    Champagne for Monkeys /CC via Flickr

In early October, the Interior Department gave its blessing to three solar energy projects in California's sun-saturated Mojave Desert and Imperial Valley, and one in the Nevada desert. The approvals -- the first ever on federal public land -- came five years after the agency opened public deserts in the Southwest to solar development. A recent Associated Press investigation attributed the lag to overwhelmed Bureau of Land Management staff and land-grabbing companies that applied for leases without real plans to use them. But now, both the feds and developers seem possessed with a sense of urgency. The BLM will likely approve four more solar farms proposed on public land within weeks. The California and Nevada projects, meanwhile, are sprinting to break ground by Dec. 31 -- they'll have to in order to secure shares of $10 billion in stimulus cash slated for renewable energy ventures.

10,000 Megawatts of renewable energy capacity Congress has mandated for federal land by 2015

1,174 Megawatts the four solar farms just approved could generate

87 Number of wind and geothermal energy leases approved on public land to date

> 73,000 Oil and gas leases approved by BLM since 2005

354 Applications filed to develop solar projects on federal land since 2005

1/3 Portion of their electricity California utilities must get from renewable sources by 2020

10.61 Percentage of California electricity derived from renewables in 2008

10,252 Acres of public land the California approvals granted developers access to

11 million Total acres of public land in the California desert

6,620 Acres of flat-tailed horned lizard habitat loss that the developer of the Imperial Valley project -- the largest of the four approved -- will be required to compensate for. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the lizard as threatened under the Endangered Species Act

10.4 Gallons of water required per minute, on average, during a five-day work week to clean 30,000 SunCatcher solar dishes, which will be used in the largest project

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