Those targets have become harder to reach as the sunniest undeveloped land is put off limits.
Last December, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, introduced legislation to protect nearly a million acres of the Mojave Desert from renewable energy development.
But the senator’s bill also includes tax incentives for developers who build renewable energy projects on disturbed lands.
For Westlands farmers, the promise of the solar project is not clean electricity, but the additional water allocations they will get if some land is no longer used for farming.
“Westlands’ water supply has been chronically short over the past 18 years, so one of the things we’ve tried to do to balance supply and demand is to take land out of production,” said Thomas W. Birmingham, general manager of the water district, which acquired 100,000 acres and removed the land from most agricultural production. “The conversion of district-owned lands into areas that can generate electricity will help to reduce the cost of providing water to our farmers.”
That is one reason the solar project has the support of farmers. Circling above his 5,300 acres in a small plane recently, Mark Shannon gazed down on rows of almond and pistachio trees surrounded by brown fields. With water deliveries slashed because of drought and environmental disputes, he could plant only 20 percent of his property with irrigated crops this year.
“Come hell or high water, there just is not enough water to farm this whole district,” Mr. Shannon, 41, said. “If I lease my land for solar, we can farm elsewhere.”
That morning, representatives of the water district, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Westlands Solar Park, had gathered in a field of dry-farmed wheat on his property to talk strategy.
“We’re holding Westlands up as a model to utilities, regulators and solar developers on how to take pressure off undeveloped land and move projects forward,” said Helen O’Shea, deputy director of the N.R.D.C.’s Western renewable energy project.
Daniel Kim and Bob Dowds, the principals of Westside Holdings, the firm that has proposed the Westlands Solar Park, said the first phase of the project would consist of 9,000 acres leased from farmers. When covered in solar panels, that acreage would generate 600 to 1,000 megawatts of electricity. One megawatt is enough to power a Wal-Mart Supercenter .