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Feds OK First Arizona Solar Plant on Public Lands

December 21, 2011

PHOENIX - Arizona's first large-scale solar-energy plant located on public land has been approved by the federal Interior Department.

The Sonoran Solar Project will be built on Bureau of Land Management lands located about 10 miles south of Buckeye.

John Shepard, senior adviser for the Sonoran Institute in Tucson, says the plant will use little water and have limited impact on wildlife.

"It uses a minimal amount of water, primarily to clean the panels. The footprint of the project has shrunk considerably, and so our feeling is that it will have a fairly minimal impact on wildlife and habitat."

The plant's location, Shepard says, will make it relatively easy to connect to existing power transmission lines.

"It's in an area, sort-of western Maricopa County, and the area around the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant is an ideally locatable area for large-scale solar projects because there is already significant transmission infrastructure there."

Federal approval for the Sonoran Solar Project amplifies the need for continued financial incentives for utility-scale solar projects, Shepard says.

"I think the question that we need to ask ourselves is what kind of a commitment we want to make in terms of our energy future. Investing in clean and secure sources of energy is good, both for the economy and the environment, so to me it's a win-win option."

The solar plant will power up to 90,000 homes in the Phoenix area, says Shepard. The next step, he says, is for the company building the plant, NextEra, to negotiate a power-purchase agreement with a utility such as Arizona Public Service.

More information is online at blm.gov.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ