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Large-scale Arizona solar, wind-energy projects could win federal OK by end of year

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WASHINGTON – Federal officials said Tuesday that they are on track to decide by early next year whether two new utility-scale renewable-energy projects – one wind, one solar – can move forward in Arizona.

The Mohave County Wind Farm Project and the Quartzsite Solar Energy Project are two of seven renewable-energy projects on Western public lands for which the Obama administration said Tuesday it is expediting its review.

“From our standpoint, it means that these projects are moving along and are scheduled for decisions either late this year or early next year,” said Dennis Godfrey, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona office.

BLM, the lead agency in charge of determining whether the projects can move forward, is currently working on final environmental impact statements on the proposals, which must come before a decision can be announced.

The Interior Department said it expects to have a decision on the 100-megawatt Quartzsite project by December and a decision on the 500-megawatt Mohave County wind farm by January.

Godfrey said Tuesday’s announcement signals that the final stages of the review are under way.

After the decision is made on whether or not the plants can proceed, there are two more steps before construction can begin: the right-of-way grant and the notice to proceed.

The BLM said it is up to the respective companies as to when they break ground following a notice to proceed.

“We’re very confident we’ll break ground in 2013,” said Tom Georgis, senior vice president of development at SolarReserve, which is developing the Quartzsite project.

Officials with BP, which is developing the Mohave County wind farm, could not be reached Tuesday to comment on their plans.

Before most companies will begin construction, however, they want to find a customer for the power the project will generate, Georgis said. Once a power-purchase agreement is in hand, then construction can begin.

“They have to have someone to sell their energy to,” Godfrey said.

In addition to the BLM, the projects are being reviewed by the Energy Department’s Western Area Power Administration.

The power administration is co-lead on the process and determines what power systems the projects can connect to. It also assists in the environmental impact statement before issuing its own decision on the projects.

The Bureau of Reclamation is also partly involved with the Mohave project.

Although the decisions are separate, Godfrey said it is a group effort.

“We all work jointly on this,” he said. “These aren’t decisions that are taking place in a vacuum.”

The fast-tracking was announced Tuesday as part of the administration’s “all-of-the-above” plan for energy development. Under that initiative, the White House said, the Interior Department has approved 31 new projects, more than were approved for the past two decades combined.

Sun and wind and power

The Mohave County Wind Farm Project and the Quartzsite Solar Energy Project in Arizona are two of seven Western renewable-energy projects on which the government is expediting its reviews.

- Mohave County Wind Farm Project

Land: 45,000 acres

Estimated Cost: $1 billion

Generation: 500 megawatts

- Quartzsite Solar Energy Project

Land: 1,675 acres

Estimated Cost: $700 million to $800 million

Generation: 100 megawatts

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