The US Department of Interior (DoI) has given the green light to Clearway Energy to build the 265MW Arica and 200MW Victory Pass PV projects on federal lands in south-eastern California, with construction start as early as this month.

Each array will include up to 200MW of battery energy storage capacity and together, provide power for about 132,000 homes. DoI anticipates Clearway will invest $689m to build new project-related infrastructure.

San Francisco-based Clearway is the fifth largest owner of utility solar and wind capacity in the US. On 1 January, it had 5.5GW including 1.76GW of solar, according to industry advocacy body the American Clean Power Association.

“The Bureau of Land Management is committed to making significant contributions to the nation’s renewable energy portfolio,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, director of BLM, a DoI body that administers the desert region lands where the projects are located.

Arica and Victory Pass are the first projects in those areas identified as suitable for commercial solar in the so-called Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan devised by DoI, BLM, other federal agencies, State of California, local and tribal communities, and industry.

The plan is a strategy that seeks to streamline approvals for renewables development while conserving unique desert ecosystems and providing recreational opportunities across 10.8 million acres (43.7 million ha) of public lands in the desert regions of seven California counties.

Those lands are a fraction of the state’s parched southeast that partly borders Arizona and Nevada, much of which is either off-limits as national parks or wilderness areas or owned by the Department of Defence. Tribes also own some lands.

DoI called final approvals for the projects a “significant milestone” toward permitting at least 25GW of new geothermal, solar, and wind on federal lands between fiscal years 2021 and 2025.

In fiscal year 2021, which runs from 1 October–30 September 2022, BLM has so far authorised or facilitated 14 projects totalling 3.36GW. Except for 100MW of geothermal, the balance was solar.

Congress established that mandate in the bipartisan Energy Act of 2020, the first comprehensive update to US energy policies in 13 years. The law instructs DoI to maintain oversight of this development process by coordinating with other executive branch agencies and report progress to lawmakers each year.