BLM approves 485 MW Blythe Mesa Solar project in California

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Aug. 24 that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management approved the 485 MW Blythe Mesa Solar project in Riverside County, Calif.

The facility should produce enough renewable energy to power more than 145,000 homes in California, Interior said in a news release.

Proposed by RRG Renewables, the Blythe Mesa project will be built on 3,587 acres of private land – primarily lands that have already been disturbed by agricultural use – under the jurisdiction of Riverside County and the city of Blythe. The project site is about three miles west of the city of Blythe.

The project requires the Interior Department’s approval because a 230-kV generation interconnection (gen-tie) transmission line – allowing the facility to connect to an electric grid – crosses five miles of public lands managed by the BLM.

The line will allow the solar facility to connect into the Colorado River Substation in eastern Riverside County.

The BLM worked with Riverside County to complete a joint final environmental impact report/environmental assessment (EIR/EA) that evaluated the potential effects on agriculture, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, noise, paleontological resources and traffic and transportation.

As part of the process, BLM approved an alternative route for the gen-tie line so that all of it would be on public lands, allowing BLM to oversee the line’s operations, maintenance and mitigation measures, as well as reduce impacts on privately owned lands nearby.

The EIR/EA was published on April 9. Riverside County issued its approval for the solar project in May.

Other federal agencies involved in the project’s review process included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Obama Administration is committed to expanding responsible domestic energy production on our public lands as we diversify our nation’s energy portfolio and transition to a cleaner energy future,” Secretary Jewell said. “Working closely with industry and state, tribal and local communities, these projects not only provide clean energy and cut carbon emissions, but also strengthen local economies, generate good jobs and provide affordable, reliable, sustainable power across the West.”

This is the 57th project authorized by the Interior Department since 2009. So far, that brings the total number of projects to 34 solar, 11 wind, and 12 geothermal utility scale renewable energy facilities and associated transmission infrastructure. Together, the projects could support more than 26,000 construction and operations jobs; and when built, generate nearly 15,000 MW of electricity, or enough to power five million homes.

Thirteen of these projects are already in operation. These approved projects represent nearly $40 billion in potential capital investments by industry in clean energy development.

“Blythe Mesa is another step forward toward diversifying our nation’s energy portfolio to meet the growing demand for renewable resources,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “With this approval, the BLM is well on its way in realizing the president’s vision of permitting 20,000 MW of renewable energy on public land by the end of this decade.”

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Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 22 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants.

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