For decades, the nearly 18,000 acres of Palmdale land purchased by Los Angeles World Airports for the future home of a massive air terminal has instead been home to nothing but an expanse of Joshua trees and desert scrub.

Now, LAWA, the agency that operates the city’s airports, is hoping to put some of that property to work – but not as an airport, rather as a privately developed solar or wind farm.

The agency started buying the Mojave Desert land in the 1970s, thinking it would one day need it when Los Angeles International Airport reached its limits. LAWA continues to operate a small regional airport adjacent to its massive land holdings, but so far hasn’t sought to develop the property as LAX has been able to accommodate its own passenger growth.

LAWA and the city Department of Water and Power have talked about putting a solar or wind farm on the site for years. Solar and wind power have been growing as an industry, but it’s still questionable that a private developer would be interested.

The land hasn’t been the subject of an environmental review and, in its request for proposals, LAWA said the winning bidder would have to go through all the environmental reviews and get all the necessary permits. That would mean going before various local and state bodies to get permission for such infrastructure as solar arrays or transmission lines.

Indeed, Mike Stern, chief operating officer of solar project developer Solar Electric Solutions LLC in Woodland Hills, said that permitting and getting access to the power grid are much more important considerations that the land itself.

“The transmission infrastructure is not there,” Stern said.

His company almost submitted a proposal for the site two years ago, when LAWA first issued a request for concepts and qualifications from energy developers, but didn’t because he said it wasn’t an attractive proposition.

This time around, LAWA will only accept bids from the 10 firms that responded to the 2010 request, with proposals due in October. Still, the agency isn’t entirely giving up on Palmdale as the site of a future major airport.

In its request for proposals, LAWA said it is willing to lease the land to an energy firm for up to 30 years or until it is needed for airport development – though the agency noted that a major airport would likely be “in the distant future.”

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