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KCET: Giant Solar Project Planned on Edwards Air Force Base

A 450-megawatt solar project may break ground as early as next year at Edwards Air Force Base in the western Mojave Desert. The project, now undergoing environmental review, would sell power to utilities outside the military base.

The proposed Oro Verde Solar Project is proceeding under a 2010 agreement between Edwards Air Force Base and the solar contractor SunEdison, which would lease up to 4,000 acres in the base’s northwestern corner in Kern County. The Air Force would use SunEdison’s rent checks to pay for energy conservation on the base, and SunEdison would sell its power to willing California utilities.

The project could add another six square miles of potential renewable energy development to the Antelope Valley area, which has been as close to a wind and solar “ground zero” as exists in the U.S. The region’s largely agricultural past means there are relatively large tracts of private land with somewhat lower habitat value than in the public lands farther east in the Mojave.

Oro Verde would likely tie into the local transmission grid at one of two spots along Oak Creek Road west of Mojave: Southern California Edison’s Windhub substation or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Barren Ridge-Rinaldi transmission line. The area’s transmission has been built up in recent years in anticipation of hundreds of megawatts of new wind and solar power.

Developing the Antelope Valley’s relatively disturbed land has lower risk to wildlife habitat than putting solar on intact old-growth desert farther east, but “lower” doesn’t mean “none.” Historic surveys of the Oro Verde site have found the rare plant species alkali mariposa lily (Calochortus striatus) and Mojave spineflower (Chorizanthe spinosa) among the creosote and Joshua trees.

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