The U.S. Department of the Interior approved the largest solar energy project ever to be built on U.S. public lands. When constructed, the Blythe Solar Power Project will produce up to 1,000 megawatts of solar power, or enough to power 300,000 – 750,000 homes.
The project, proposed by Palo Verde Solar I, a subsidiary of Solar Millennium, LLC, will cover 7,025 acres of public lands eight miles west of Blythe in Riverside County, California. It is expected to create 1,066 jobs at the peak of construction and 295 permanent jobs.
“The Blythe Solar Power Project is a major milestone in our nation’s renewable energy economy and shows that the United States intends to compete and lead in the technologies of the future,” Secretary Ken Salazar said in signing the Record of Decision. “This project shows in a real way how harnessing our own renewable resources can create good jobs here at home.”
The Secretary’s decision authorizes the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to offer Solar Millennium a right-of-way grant (ROW) to use these public lands for 30 years if all rents and other conditions are met.
“With the approval of the Blythe project, the solar projects approved on BLM public lands in the last few weeks have the potential to generate up to 2800 megawatts of renewable energy. That’s enough to power up to 2 million homes,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “We have truly arrived at America’s new energy frontier.”
The solar project joins a host of landmark announcements from Interior in recent weeks as part of the Administration’s effort to encourage a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of renewable energy on public lands. Earlier this month, the Secretary approved the first five renewable energy projects ever on public lands – Imperial Valley Solar Project, Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project, Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System and the Calico Solar Project, all in California; and the Silver State North Solar Project in Nevada.
Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Solar Millennium is eligible to secure $1.9 billion in conditional loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy for this project.
The project has undergone extensive environmental review, starting with public scoping in November 2009, followed by a draft environment impact statement (EIS) in March 2010 and a final EIS August 20, 2010.
BLM is requiring that Solar Millennium provide funding for more than 8,000 acres of desert tortoise, western burrowing owl, bighorn sheep and Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat to mitigate the project’s impacts.
In September, the project was licensed by the California Energy Commission, which regulates solar thermal projects in California that generate at least 50 megawatts.
Salazar noted the extraordinary level of cooperation between California and the Department for this project and the others pending. “Together, we developed the ‘fast track’ process that demonstrates how separate government processes can be coordinated without cutting corners or skipping any environmental checks and balances in the process,” he said. “I commend Governor Schwarzenegger and the people of California for their foresight and partnership.”
The Blythe Solar Power Project uses parabolic trough technology where rows of parabolic mirrors focus solar energy on collector tubes. The tubes carry heated oil to a boiler, which sends live steam to a turbine to produce electricity. A new 230 kilovolt (kV) transmission line will be constructed to connect the Blythe Solar Project to the Devers-Palo Verde #2 500 kV line at the Colorado River substation.