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Stimulus dollars serve as incentive for desert solar projects

Deadline for federal funding prompts rush of applications

BARSTOW • One resource the High Desert isn’t short on is sun, so it’s no surprise that a myriad of companies are looking to capitalize on it. But the number of sunny days in the High Desert isn’t the only thing fueling the solar power boom.

Out of about 18 solar power projects in various stages of development on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s Barstow office, most are striving for a portion of $15 billion in federal stimulus dollars set aside for renewable energy projects. But in order to be eligible for that funding, the projects have to be ready for construction by Dec. 31, 2010.

“(Most) of these projects have the same goal in mind that is to complete the environmental work by December 2010 to qualify for stimulus dollars,” said Mickey Quillman, chief of resources at the BLM’s Barstow office. “In a perfect world all of the applications would reach that goal. It’s not going to happen.”

Out of the 18 project applications for the Barstow area, Stirling Energy Systems and Tessera Solar’s Calico One project east of Newberry Springs and Chevron Energy Solution’s Lucerne Valley photovoltaic solar project are expected to begin construction before the end of 2010, Quillman said. The Bureau of Land Management hopes to bring the projects through the permitting stage by October 2010. The projects would be issued a notice to proceed with construction by the BLM 30 days later, according to Quillman.

The 850 megawatt Calico One project is striving to be construction-ready by the end of 2010 to take advantage of the federal stimulus dollars, said company spokesman Janette Coates. The companies do not give out project cost information, but Coates said Stirling Energy Systems and Tessera Solar are hoping to receive a stimulus grant equal to 30 percent of the total.

Chevron Energy Solutions does not plan to seek federal stimulus money for its 45 megawatt project, said company spokesperson Juliet Don. The estimated project cost is $100 million, she said.

“We didn’t want to be dependent on stimulus funding,” Don said.

Incentives like federal stimulus dollars and a state-government goal of having 10 percent of California’s energy come from renewables and 33 percent by 2020 is fueling the solar boom, said Jan Kleissl, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of California. The trend will last as long as the incentives and policies do, he said.

“A change in politicians could also mean a fairly quick end or big reduction in the boom,” Kleissl said. “Only the best sites with the least cost and best conditions will be built and many others (which) would also be suitable but not quite as good will not be building anymore.”

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