The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Solar Boom


3718The CLUI presented an exhibit, Solar Boom, about the current state of industrial-scale solar in the USA at its space in Los Angeles, in 2014. CLUI photoMORE THAN A DOZEN MASSIVE solar power plants, each covering a few square miles and capable of producing 150 megawatts or more, are being built at the moment, or are already in operation, in the southwestern United States. There were only two of this size, ten years ago, in the whole of the USA.

Ranging in projected capacity from 250 to 550 megawatts, each of these new plants, by themselves, would be the largest in the world. And though they are being built in California, Nevada, and Arizona, nearly all of the power they produce is headed to southern California. The legislated mandate to decrease California’s dependence on fossil fuels is the primary driver of this boom.

Some people have calculated that it would take 10,000 square miles of solar panels to produce enough electricity to meet the demands of the USA—an area the size of Massachusetts. In the desert southwest, where some military reservations are as large as some New England states, and the sun shines more than 300 days a year, the process seems to be underway.

With so many proposed projects, and so many stalled in the complicated political and regulatory process, it’s hard to know where things are really at with large-scale solar, at the moment. So in February 2014, photographers from the CLUI spent two weeks on the road, visiting all the major operating or “under development” solar power projects in the southwest, to verify the situation on the ground.

Every solar project over 50 megawatts was visited, and many others, generating as little as 15 megawatts, also visited. The CLUI photographed all projects of 150 megawatts or more from the air, primarily with a drone. These images were featured in Solar Boom: Sun-Powered Electrical Plants in the USA, an exhibit held at CLUI Los Angeles in March 2014.  ♦