photo: California Energy Commission
In Friday’s New York Times, I wrote about California regulators’ licensing of a 1,000-megawatt solar thermal power plant, which would be the world’s largest solar energy complex:
California regulators have licensed what is for the moment the world’s largest solar thermal power plant, a 1,000-megawatt complex called the Blythe Solar Power Project to be built in the Mojave Desert.
By contrast, a total of 481 megawatts of new solar capacity was installed in the United States last year, mostly from thousands of rooftop solar arrays, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.
“Given the challenge of climate change at this time, it is very important to reduce fossil fuel use by moving forward with the largest solar project in California,” Robert Weisenmiller, a member of the California Energy Commission, said at a hearing Wednesday in Sacramento after a unanimous vote to approve the Blythe project.
“We’re taking a major step toward reducing the threat of future climate change impacts on the state, and at the same time the other real challenge for the state is the economy,” he added, referring to 604 construction jobs and 221 permanent jobs that the Blythe project would create in an area of California where the unemployment rate was 15 percent this summer.
After years of environmental reviews, the California Energy Commission has in the past three weeks licensed solar thermal farms that would generate 1,500 megawatts of electricity when completed.
A commission spokeswoman said the commissioners anticipated making licensing decisions by the end of 2010 on additional solar projects that would produce another 2,829 megawatts. At peak output, those solar farms would generate the equivalent electricity produced by several large nuclear power plants.
Developers are racing to start construction before federal tax incentives for big renewable energy projects expire at year’s end.
If all the projects are built, they would create 8,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs, according to the energy commission.
At peak operation, the Blythe solar complex would supply enough electricity for 800,000 homes. The multibillion-dollar project will be built in four 250-megawatt phases.
It is notable for being the first big solar project to be licensed that would be built on federal land. The United States Bureau of Land Management is expected to decide by the end of October whether to approve the Blythe complex.
The project will be constructed by Solar Millennium, a German developer, and will cover 9.3 square miles in Riverside County in Southern California with long rows of parabolic troughs. The solar reflectors focus the sun on liquid-filled tubes suspended over the mirrors to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine housed in a central power block.
You can read the rest of the story here.