Warren Buffett-owned Antelope Valley Solar Projects show how utility-scale renewable energy projects can successfully respect conservation values
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Today, as developer SunPower and owner MidAmerican Solar marked the start of major construction on the Antelope Valley Solar Projects, one of the largest planned solar projects in the U.S, the Sierra Club applauded the project for its environmentally sensitive development. The Sierra Club endorsed the project early on because it was planned and sited in a way that protected local plants and wildlife.
"The Antelope Valley Solar Projects are a true clean energy success story," said Sarah Friedman, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "What was once an old heavily-irrigated alfalfa field will now be part of one of the country's largest solar projects, providing enough clean energy to power 400,000 homes. The smart siting of this project allowed the developers to avoid damage to fragile desert wildlands and move the project along with local support."
Once online in 2015, the photovoltaic solar projects will provide 579 megawatts of real clean energy, enough to power approximately 400,000 homes. The projects will help California meet its renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission reductions goals, as well as displace demand for dirty fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. Once complete, the projects will generate an offset of more than 775,000 tons of carbon per year, the emissions equivalent of taking 3 million cars of the road over the next 20 years.
"The developers listened to our concerns about the local lands and wildlife in the Antelope Valley and incorporated them into the planning and siting for the project," said Georgette Theotig, lead volunteer on renewable energy issues for the Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter. "The proposal came out stronger for it, and we were proud to endorse the project and testify on its behalf during the approval process. Solar projects like this show it's possible to move forward with larger clean energy projects and respect conservation values at the same time."
The project location was chosen in strict accordance with conservation values, seeking to avoid harming wildlife or building unnecessary new infrastructure. The projects are located on previously disturbed private land that did not have any threatened and endangered species present. Although the project site is in the desert, it was being used to grow alfalfa and other crops that require significant irrigation, and switching from crops to photovoltaic solar will significantly reduce water use.The project also has an approved re-vegetation plan to control dust, a key local concern.
Because the projects are located near existing transmission lines, including a major substation, it was not necessary to build new high-voltage power lines through undisturbed land.
Sierra Club volunteers worked with the developer from early on to improve the project, and ultimately endorsed it for its attention to conservation as well as its generation of clean energy.
In partnership with SunPower, the projects were developed by Renewable Resources Group and Capricorn Investment Group, the investment fund led by former eBay President Jeff Skoll. In January, MidAmerican Solar Company, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Renewables, purchased the project for $2 billion. The buy added to a recent spate of clean energy purchases by MidAmerican Renewables, standing in contrast to other Berkshire-Hathaway holdings like PacifiCorp and BNSF that continue to rely on dirty coal, as profiled this week by Sierra Magazine. MidAmerican currently has 1,830 megawatts of renewable energy assets, including wind power, geothermal, solar and hydro, and has retired several of the old coal plants in its fleet.
The project is an important milestone on California's path away from fossil fuels and towards developing a clean energy economy. Last week, the Solar Foundation announced that California was first in the nation for solar jobs, and California leads in installed solar capacity.