In a June press release issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior, new Interior Secretary Sally Jewel announced the Obama administration’s latest steps in its “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. The release announced the approval of three renewable energy projects and a crucial first step in development of the massive potential of U.S. offshore wind power.

The Department of Energy (DOE) generally funds development of new renewable energy technologies. However, the Department of the Interior (DOI) may be a significantly bigger player in the expansion of renewable energy production by opening the country’s public lands and coastal waters to competitive proposals for responsible domestic energy production. In fact, since 2009, the DOI has approved a combined 45 utility-scale solar facilities, wind farms and geothermal plants that will ultimately provide enough electricity to power 4.4 million homes.

These latest DOI approvals include solar farms located in Arizona and Nevada and a geothermal power plant in Nevada. The solar energy projects are Boulder Solar Power’s Midland Solar Project and SolarReserve’s Quartzsite Solar Project. TerraGen Power will build the New York Canyon Geothermal project.

Midland Solar Project

Proposed by Boulder Solar Power, LLC, the Midland Solar Project will be built on private land southwest of Boulder City, Arizona. However, electricity from the 350-megawatt photovoltaic facility will pass across a 76-acre corridor of federal land. The project will energize about 105,000 homes. In addition, the local economy will benefit from a peak work force of 350 and 10 permanent positions.

Close cooperation between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Boulder Solar Power allowed inclusion of conservation measures to avoid or minimize environmental impact. For example, less than 7 acres of native habitat will be affected by infrastructure. Water will come from existing Boulder City supplies, leaving surface waters undisturbed.

Quartzsite Solar Project

Quartzsite Solar Energy, LLC – a subsidiary of SolarReserve, LLC – proposed this 100-megawatt project to be located on 1,600 acres of BLM lands about 10 miles north of Quartzsite, Arizona. The Quartzsite Solar Project will employ SolarReserve’s non-photovoltaic, solar power concentrating technology combined with thermal energy storage technology.

In this technology, the sun’s thermal energy from the solar field is collected and concentrated with heliostats – a collection of mirrors – directed toward a 653-foot central tower. Liquid molten salt captures and stores this energy to generate steam that will drive traditional steam turbine generators. A peak work force of 450 and 47 permanent positions will be generated. Plant output should power about 30,000 homes.

New York Canyon Geothermal Project

To be constructed 25 miles east of Lovelock, Nevada, the New York Canyon Geothermal Plant and transmission lines will cover over 15,000 acres of BLM-managed land. TGP Dixie Development Company, LLC – a subsidiary of TerraGen Power, LLC – will build the 70-megawatt project. Construction will require about 150 peak construction jobs and 16 operational positions. The power will supply about 60,000 homes. Environmental impact will be minimal, and no endangered or threatened species will be affected.

Offshore Wind Projects

Secretary Jewel has announced the first project proposals for offshore wind leases of coastal U.S. waters. The first-ever competition will involve 164,750 acres along Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has approved nine companies to submit proposals. Winners will have the right to develop the nation’s first offshore wind farms. Although, wind power energy development will probably take longer to reach fruition, the potential impact could be enormous with a potential 3.4 GW of wind energy available to power one million homes.