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NextEra Chops Blythe Solar Project Proposal Amid Switch to Solar PV

NextEra has submitted a revised proposal for its massive Blythe Solar Power Project in California, aiming to shrink the project by more than half from its initial 1,000-MW goal as it shifts the project to solar PV technology.

NextEra acquired the Blythe project in June 2012 from original owner Solar Millennium, which had just filed for bankruptcy. It then proposed to switch the design from concentrated solar thermal to solar photovoltaic (PV) technology which had clearly become more cost-compelling, both from a procurement standpoint and in project scope (eliminating several power blocks and towers, reducing infrastructure requirements and water usage, and easing environmental impacts).

In a new filing with the California Energy Commission (CEC), the company said it is evaluating both thin-film and polycrystalline solar PV modules, as well as fixed-tilt and single-axis tracking systems (or some combination of either), but hasn't yet decided what PV technology or vendors it might use. It did, however, list two types of "typical panels" for each case, specifically First Solar's SF Series 3 cadmium-telluride (CdTe) panels and Yingli Green Energy's YGE 300 Series polycrystalline panels. First Solar had previously been suggested as a potential supplier to the Blythe project, largely because of its ability to provide such a large amount of panels. First Solar already is working with NextEra on its 550-MW Desert Sunlight project in California.

Instead of four units with 250-MW nominal capacity, NextEra now proposes three phases of 125-MW (AC) units using solar PV technology, plus a fourth unit of 110 MW (AC). All four units would share access/maintenance roads and a 230-kV transmission line.

If approved, the first phase of construction at Blythe could begin in mid-2014, with the entire project taking four years to complete. NextEra also pegs a preliminary number on capital cost of the project ($1.1 billion), materials and supply purchases ($15 million), construction payroll ($173 million), and annual O&M ($1.55 million).

The Blythe solar project: original boundary for solar thermal in orange, and modified PV proposal in black. (Source: CEC filing)

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