NPR logo U.S. Approves Massive Solar Power Plant To Be Built On Public Land


U.S. Approves Massive Solar Power Plant To Be Built On Public Land

U.S. regulators have approved the construction of a solar power plant on federal public land in Southern California that, once built, could be the largest of its kind in the world. The Blythe Solar Power Project would sit on more than 7,000 acres in Riverside County.

A joint project of Chevron Energy Solutions and an American unit of a German firm called Solar Millennium, the plant would use curved mirrors to focus the sun's heat to produce energy. As Bloomberg reports, "The facility will use rows of parabolic mirrors to focus the sun's energy onto tubes that carry heated oil to a boiler, which sends steam to a turbine."

Earlier this month, federal regulators approved the first two solar-power projects to be built on public land. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the Blythe plant, capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of power, "a major milestone in our nation's renewable energy economy."

The deal includes provisions to ease the project's impact on animal species that might be affected, including the fringe-toed lizard, desert tortoise, western burrowing owl, and bighorn sheep.

The National Resources Defense Council says it worked with Millennium to limit the environmental impact of the plant. A statement from the organization acknowledges that "sensitive resources" are in the project's region. But the NRDC says the Blythe site has some good attributes:

It is located adjacent to developed lands, including industrial and agricultural lands;

It is located near a new non-controversial transmission line that has already been approved;

A large part of the project is located in an area that environmental groups identified for study for potential solar energy development.

The Blythe project seems to have gained approval pretty quickly. According to the state's Energy Commission page on the plant, the initial application for certification was filed in August of 2009. But there may be a reason for the speed of the project's approval: builders must break ground by the end of the year to take advantage of federal stimulus funds.