Southern California could soon be home to one of the largest solar power plants in the world, thanks to a plan the federal government approved on August 24. Dubbed the Blythe Mesa Solar Project, it would bring 485-megawatts of carbon-free energy from photovoltaic solar cells, enough to power 180,000 homes, to land once used to grow crops.
While previous plans to build solar farms in the Mojave Desert faltered due to environmental concerns, Blythe is in the clear because it uses already disturbed land. The desert plains may have the necessary space, but building on them would have compromised the habitats of several endangered species, including desert tortoises and blunt-nosed leopard lizards. The new plan utilizes more than 3,500 acres of fallow farmland once used to grow wheat, alfalfa and citrus, so no inhabited land will be agitated.
"Due to the previously disturbed condition of nearly all the land proposed for the project, numerous environmental organizations supported the project because it conformed with our recommended criteria for siting large-scale projects in the California desert," said Jeff Aardahl, California representative for the national conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife, to Yahoo News.
While the federal government's approval of the Blythe Mesa project was a big step forward, the plan still has a long way to go before becoming a reality. The solar provider must still sign a long-term power purchase agreement with a utility that wants to buy the electricity the plant will generate. Hopefully, however, this won't take long, as a bill making its way through the California legislature may require the state to obtain half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, skyrocketing demand.
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