Biden Administration Approves Two New Solar Farms in California Desert

solar farm

Westlands Solar Park in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

As part of a bid to increase renewable energy capacity on public lands, the Biden administration announced Tuesday that it had approved two new solar farms in the California desert.

The Arica and Victory Pass solar projects will be built near Desert Center in eastern Riverside County. Together, they could generate as much as 465 megawatts of power with up to 400 megawatts of battery storage.

“Renewable energy projects like Arica and Victory Pass on public lands create good-paying jobs and are crucial in achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035,” Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Tracy Stone-Manning said in a statement. “Investing in clean and reliable renewable energy represents the BLM’s commitment for addressing climate change and supports Congress’ direction in the Energy Act of 2020 to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal production on public lands no later than 2025.”

The Biden administration has promised to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by around half of 2005 levels by 2030 and ween the electricity sector off of fossil fuels by 2035, The New York Times pointed out. However, the administration’s climate agenda is in trouble after Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said he would not vote for the Build Back Better Act, which included $555 billion in spending to transition U.S. energy away from fossil fuels.

One thing the administration can do without the Senate is approve more renewable energy projects on public lands or offshore in public waters. This is a reversal from the Trump administration, which focused on exploiting fossil fuels, The AP reported.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters Tuesday that the Trump administration had closed BLM renewable energy offices and worked against renewable energy project agreements. She said the department was “rebuilding” renewable energy capacity after Trump.

“We fully intend to meet our clean energy goals,” Haaland told reporters.

In addition to the two projects approved Tuesday, BLM expects to approve another California solar project shortly that will generate 500 megawatts of electricity. Together, the three installations will generate around 1,000 megawatts and power around 132,000 homes, The New York Times reported. Further, BLM is looking for interested parties to develop more solar projects on almost 90,000 acres of public land in solar energy zones in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

The California projects in particular are part of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan to develop solar projects on 10.8 million acres of public lands in seven California counties while simultaneously conserving desert ecosystems and providing recreation, BLM said.

While the administration moves forward with developing the renewable energy potential of public lands, it has had less success at halting fossil fuel exploration. After a judge ruled against a moratorium on oil and gas drilling lease sales, the Biden administration oversaw the largest offshore lease sale in U.S. history last month in the Gulf of Mexico. Further, the administration has so far issued more permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands than the Trump administration did during its first three years.

Environmental advocates have argued that the administration could do more to prevent drilling on public lands.

“Given the fact that 25% of U.S. carbon emissions come from federal oil, gas and coal, there is no way the U.S. can meet its climate obligations by continuing to operate the program with business as usual,” Earthjustice attorney Drew Caputo said in response to the Gulf lease sale.

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