California panel approves Blythe Solar power project amendment

SACRAMENTO – The California Energy Commission today approved an amendment to convert the 485-megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project from solar parabolic-trough to a solar-photovoltaic (PV) plant.

By a 5-0 vote, the Energy Commission adopted the presiding member’s proposed decision (PMPD) green lighting the petitioner, NextEra Blythe Solar Energy Center, LLC, to switch technologies.

“The project will spur California’s transition to renewable energy and help advance its aggressive climate change goals,” said Commissioner Karen Douglas who is the presiding member of the committee reviewing the Blythe Solar Power Project Amendment.

In its PMPD released December 13, 2013, the Blythe Solar Power Project Amendment Committee said 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 impacts to biological resources, cultural resources, land use, and visual resources.

The committee found that the project benefits-including its contribution to meeting California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating nearly 500 peak construction jobs, and boosting the economy-justify an override of those impacts.

Commissioner David Hochschild served as associate member for the Blythe Solar Power Project Amendment Committee.

The PMPD for the project amendment was based solely on the record of facts established during the facility’s amendment proceedings.

In September 2010, the Energy Commission approved the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project for a site located about eight miles west of Blythe in eastern Riverside County on 7,043 acres of federal public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The original project owner, Palo Verde Solar I, LLC, a subsidiary of Solar Millennium, filed an amendment with the commission in June 2012 to switch to solar PV. 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 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 generating 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. There would be an average of 341 employees during construction, with a peak of 499. Fifteen operational employees would be needed. The estimated capital construction cost is $1.13 billion, according to the project owner. The Blythe Amendment Final Decision can be found here: