California gives nod to 485MW Blythe PV project

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The California Energy Commission has given approval for NextEra Energy's Blythe Solar Power project to switch from parabolic trough technology to photovoltaic.

The technology change was approved with a five to none vote, after NextEra proposed amendments to the land mass area and generation size of the project, scaling it down from 1GW to 485MW. The original 1GW was approved in 2010 to be built on 7,043 acres of land from the US Bureau of Land Management. The downsized 485MW is to span a 4,070 acre site, to be constructed in three phases of 125MW, and a final phase of 110MW.

Revisions were made to sub side environmental concerns including changes due to impacts on biological resources, cultural resources, land use and visual resources.

The petition received public comments from nearby land owners concerned about the project’s proximity and possible toxicity.

A subsequent desert tortoise clearance survey has to be approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the California Department for Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), further bird and bat monitoring and a revised right of way to meet environmental concerns.

NextEra took over the project in April 2013; the original petition for the technology change was submitted by Palo Verde Solar I, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Solar Trust of America (STA) – while in bankruptcy in June 2011. STA subsequently withdrew from the US government funding programme in August 2011, forfeiting tax payer funding for the Blythe solar project.

In August 2011, STA said a change to PV would allow a phased roll-out of the facility’s construction, compared to the 250MW instalments that were necessary when installing parabolic trough solar.

The project is due to cost US$1.13 billion with construction expected to take two years and employ 300 to 500 workers.

The project will spur California's transition to renewable energy and help advance its aggressive climate change goals, said Commissioner Karen Douglas who is the presiding member of the committee reviewing the Blythe Solar Power Project Amendment.

The Blythe project will help in aiding California's Renewables Portfolio Standard, which aims for 33% renewable energy generation by 2020.

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