Much-delayed 485MW Blythe California project gets federal approval

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A mammoth 485MW PV plant project in California has passed the final hurdle to gaining federal approval after several years of back-and-forth changes to its development plans.

Blythe Solar, also known as Blythe Mesa, will be built on over 3,587 acres (1,483 hectares) and connected to a substation operated by investor-owned utility Southern California Edison.

This connection to the local network via a 230kv transmission line reserved for generation interconnection needed federal approval, because the line will cross over five miles of public lands. The actual installation itself will be on private land, most of which was apparently formerly used for agriculture but is no longer suitable.

This most recent approval, a Right-of-way Grant, was given by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management last week, with the department announcing the news yesterday. Riverside County, the jurisdiction where the project will lie, gave its own local green light after an environmental impact report which was published in April.

This wait of a few months to coordinate between regional and federal authorities, with DoI approval necessary because of regulations over the building of 230kv power lines, is however dwarfed by the amount of time that has already been spent by various parties looking at the site with interest. Original plans as far back as five years ago had been for a parabolic trough solar thermal plant, although this was changed due to a vote from the California Energy Commission in January 2014. The plant was also scaled down from 1GW in its original form.

The project was originally taken on by NextEra Energy, which had managed to also get approval for the 485MW plan in August 2014 before the project again changed hands. As it now stands Blythe Mesa will be developed by Renewable Resources Group (RRG). It is likely to be built across a number of phases, three phases of 125MW and one of 110MW. It is not clear if equipment suppliers have been selected yet although it is possible PV modules will come from a number of makers across the construction of the plant.

Despite the long wait, it is likely that this would have been better late than never, as the economics of the project would no doubt have changed significantly were it still to be under development when the US Investment Tax Credit (ITC) drops from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016.

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