Blythe Solar Power Project Granted Interior Department Approval

On October 25, the U.S. Interior Department granted a right-of-way for more than 7,000 acres in the Mojave Desert.  The public lands near Blythe, California will be the new home for the Blythe Solar Project, an enormous undertaking by solar developer Solar Millennium.  The expansive $6 billion facility will generate up to 3,000 MW of power.

The Blythe location is expected to operate four solar-thermal power plants with a combined capacity of almost 1,000 MW.  Now that the Interior Department has given the project a green light, Solar Millennium plans to begin construction on two of the plants by the end of this year.  In order to qualify for the U.S. Treasury Department grant, an amount covering 30% of the project’s cost, construction must start by the end of 2010.  Connection to the grid for the first plant is expected as soon as 2013.

Solar Millennium will employ the latest technology to operate its ambitious project.

To create power in the state-of-the-art facility, mirrors are used within a parabolic trough system to point solar energy onto collector tubes.  A boiler then uses hot fluid to create steam, and in turn, the steam drives a turbine to generate power.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved purchase agreements between Solar Millennium and Southern California Edison for power generated in the first two plants.  Solar Millennium claims it has adequate financial resources available to fund the first construction measures.  The company expects a 20 to 30% equity ratio and 70 to 80% debt ratio for the initial two plants.

The end-of-year requirement for the Treasury Grant stimulated the approval of several other large solar projects.  The Interior Department approved a 709-MW project in Imperial County, a 664-MW project outside of Barstow and a number of other solar developments.

Recognizing the corresponding need for financially efficient energy storage systems, California introduced Assembly Bill 2514, which sets targets for electric utilities to create storage facilities.  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved the bill in September.

According to the new law, the California Public Utilities Commission must begin a proceeding by March 1, 2012 to determine targets for energy storage systems for each load-serving entity.  The targets must be adopted into use by October 1, 2013.

The combination of the construction of major new solar facilities and the implementation of new energy storage systems should provide a big boost to California’s alternative energy market.