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California Energy Commission Splits on Blythe and Palen Solar Projects

Two separate California Energy Commission siting committees have released Presiding Member’s Proposed Decisions (PMPD) on amendments to solar projects in Riverside County, the commission said in a Dec. 16 statement.

The committee for the proposed Blythe Solar Power Project recommended approval of the amendment to convert to a 485-MW solar photovoltaic facility, while the committee for the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System recommends denying the amendment to convert to a 500-MW solar thermal power tower project.

In the PMPD for the Blythe Solar Power Project released Dec. 13, the committee finds that the project, as mitigated, may have environmental impacts that are cumulatively significant when considered along with the impacts of other projects in the region. The cumulative impacts that cannot be mitigated to less than significant levels are to biological resources, cultural resources, land use, and visual resources. The committee finds that the project benefits—including its contribution to meeting California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating an estimated 499 peak construction jobs, and boosting the economy — justify an override of those impacts.

Commissioner Karen Douglas presided while Commissioner David Hochschild served as associate member for the Blythe project committee. The committee determined that the Blythe amendment complies with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards.

In regards to the Palen project, the committee found that the requested amendment, like the currently approved solar trough project, will have significant unmitigable impacts to cultural and visual resources. Unlike the currently approved project, the committee found that the amended project will also result in significant and unmitigable impacts to biological resources due to the risk of solar flux on avian species. The committee recommended denying the project amendment at this time.

The committee assigned to the Palen project has scheduled a committee conference on Jan. 7, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif.

The two PMPDs are based solely on the record of facts established during the facilities’ amendment proceedings. They are not final decisions on these amendments. The committees have released both recommended decisions for 30 days of public comment and will consider input before the proposed decisions go to the full commission in early 2014.

Commissioner Karen Douglas presided while Commissioner David Hochschild served as associate member for the Palen amendment.

Blythe Project Background

In September 2010, the commission approved the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project, which was to use parabolic trough technology. The site is located about eight miles west of Blythe in eastern Riverside County. It was originally to be built on 7,043 acres of federal public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The project owner, Palo Verde Solar I LLC, a subsidiary of Solar Millennium, filed an amendment with the commission in June 2012 to change the technology to solar photovoltaic. The commission has no jurisdiction over wind or PV projects but commission review was allowed by the Legislature under Senate Bill 226 for a limited category of projects approved on BLM land in 2010.

In April 2013, the new project owner, NextEra Blythe Solar Energy Center LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC, filed a revised amendment to reduce the project’s physical size and generation capacity. The amended 485-MW project would be developed on 4,070 acres of BLM land in four phases, with the first three consisting of 125 MW and the fourth of 110 MW. The project will also require a revised right-of-way grant from the BLM.

Construction on the project is expected to last 48 months. The estimated capital construction cost is $1.13bn, according to the project owner.

Palen Project Background

In December 2010, the commission approved the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project, which would use parabolic trough technology. In December 2012, the new project owner, Palen Solar Holdings LLC filed an amendment with the commission requesting to change the technology to solar power tower.

The applicant for the amended project now known as the Palen Solar Electric Generating System is Palen Solar Holdings LLC, a joint venture of BrightSource Energy and Abengoa.

The amendment proposal consists of two 250-MW solar towers and 170,000 heliostats. Heliostats are elevated mirrors used to focus the sun's rays on a solar receiver that produces steam to generate electricity. The solar receiver would be located atop a 750-foot-tall power tower near the center of each solar field.

The Palen project would be located about 10 miles east of Desert Center, halfway between Indio and Blythe, in eastern Riverside County. It is located on 3,794 acres of public land managed by the BLM, which is separately reviewing the project.

This article was originally published on GenerationHub and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Transmission lines via Shutterstock

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Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior t...

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