BLM may change land plan to allow solar tower systems

Arizona public lands ready for large Solar Reserve projectThe proposed 100-megawatt Solar Reserve LLC Quartzsite Solar Energy Project in La Paz County, Ariz., may require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to change how it classifies the land.

The agency will hold hearings at the Yuma, Ariz., field office on April 18, and April 19 to get public input on the project. It’s accepting written comments on the project through April 29.

According to the BLM, “The visual requirements of the Yuma Resource Management Plan would not allow characteristics that are being requested for the energy project. An amendment to the plan would modify the visual restrictions.”

Whereas a photovoltaic array normally rises a few feet off the ground, the Solar Reserve tower would, well, tower at 653 feet above the field of heliostats that concentrate sunlight on the tower.

“It’s very close to a highway. If you’re driving down the highway, you’re going to see that tower. You’ll see it from a long way out,” said Andrew Wang, Solar Reserve’s director of development for the site.

“The site is currently classified as a class 3 site, which doesn't preclude development,” Wang said. But the BLM is being careful, given that some proposed large-scale solar projects approved for California on public lands already are already subject to lawsuits.

“They don’t want to get sued,” Wang said. “They’re seeking to have the land declassified from class 3 to class 4. Were it not for this project, this would probably not be happening.”

Thus far, the proposed project hasn’t raised any controversy.

“People in the area are supportive of it,” Wang said. “The town [i.e., Quartzsite] very much wants this.” It’s a small town, but receives a lot of snowbirds in the winter, according to Wang.

The town is likely to be a chief beneficiary of the project, which Wang said will create roughly 450 construction jobs during the two to two-and-a-half years of construction. And it will create 50 permanent positions when completed.

Solar Reserve is building a number of its solar tower systems in the southwestern deserts, according to Wang. The company plans to break ground on its first solar power tower, the Crescent Dunes tower, in Nevada this June or July. It also has projects close to breaking ground in California and in Spain, Wang said.