While Burlington, Vermont recently became the first city in the U.S. to power its residents’ homes entirely on renewable energy sources — wind, hydroelectric and solar — California is making waves of its own by boasting a new, sprawling solar farm that is capable of providing enough power for nearly four cities the size of Burlington.
Roughly 4,000 acres of reflective, shiny black solar panels soak up the desert sun across Riverside County outside of Joshua Tree National Park, where on Monday, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell officially dedicated what is now one of the largest photovoltaic solar energy farms in the world.
“This is the beginning of a renewable energy future,” Jewell said, prior to helping to turn a large model light switch during the dedication.
Coming in at 550-megawatts, the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is the largest on public lands to be managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The farm began operating in December 2014, and is able to provide enough energy to power over 160,000 average California homes, said Georges Antoun, chief operating officer of the farm’s Tempe, AZ-based developer First Solar Inc.
Known for their fervor in regards to the growing environmental movement, California residents can also reduce energy consumption via landscaping. According to the American Public Power Association, landscaping can reduce air conditioning usage by up to 50% by shading the windows and wall of a home. Likewise, landscaping can also provide a barrier against the elements and serve as a form of insulation, which in turn can also reduce heating costs.
The opening of the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm comes at time when the future of solar energy in the Golden State seems a cloudy. In recent years, utility-scale solar development in California has slowed as federal assistance continues to dwindle and investor interest continues to fade.
Nevertheless, executives involved in Desert Sunlight — a joint venture of NextEra Energy Resources, GE Energy Financial Services and Sumitomo Corporation of America — continue to be optimistic and for good reason.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Southern California Edison have already agreed to purchase power from Desert Sunlight for the next two decades. Prior to 2009, no solar projects were permitted on public land, Jewell said. Now, there are 29 permitted commercial-scale projects across the Southwest. With another eight already under construction, Desert Sunlight is the sixth solar project to come online, she said.