Energy Commission approves 959 MW of solar power in California desert

Sacramento, Calif., October 1, 2010 — Following the recent success of licensing solar energy facilities, the California Energy Commission today approved nearly 1,000 MW of solar power in Southern California.

The Genesis Solar Energy Project and the Imperial Valley Solar Project, totaling 959 MW, are now the fifth and sixth solar power plants that the Energy Commission has licensed in the past five weeks. Since late August, the commission has licensed 2,829 MW of renewable solar power in the California desert.

“These approved solar projects continue to demonstrate the importance of harnessing the power of the sun for clean, renewable energy for California’s communities,” said Energy Commission Chairman Karen Douglas. “By adding nearly 1,000 MW of renewable power we will reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and get the State closer to its goals of using more renewables by 2020. Today’s actions show how California is leading the nation by licensing nearly 3,000 megawatts this year with large-scale solar power plants,” Douglas added.

In two separate unanimous votes, the Energy Commission adopted the presiding member’s proposed decisions (PMPD) that recommended licensing the 250-MW Genesis project in Riverside County and the 709-MW Imperial Valley project in Imperial County. In order to qualify for federal stimulus funds, the projects needed to be approved by the Energy Commission before December 31, 2010.

These projects are a direct result of the successful partnership between California and the Department of the Interior. In October 2009, California was the first state to sign a memo of understanding with the DOI to develop long-term renewable energy plans through state and federal permitting processes that can receive 30 percent federal tax credits under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The two projects would be among the first commercial solar thermal power plants permitted on federal public land in the U.S. Both projects still require decisions from the Bureau of Land Management, which approves the use of federal public lands, before they can proceed. The BLM’s actions are scheduled for October.

The Genesis Solar Energy Project is being proposed by Genesis Solar LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC. The project site is located in eastern Riverside County about 25 miles west of Blythe. The project is north of Ford Dry Lake and Interstate 10. The project is seeking a right-of-way grant from the BLM for 4,640 acres, with construction and operation of the facility taking up about 1,800 acres.

The proposed project would use parabolic trough technology where parabolic mirrors are used to heat a transfer fluid, which is then used to generate steam. Electricity is produced from the steam expanding through steam turbine generators.

The Imperial Valley Solar Project is being developed by Imperial Valley Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of Tessera Solar, in Imperial County. The project is located about 14 miles west of El Centro.

The project would be located on about 6,140 acres of land managed by the BLM and about 360 acres of privately-owned land.

The facility would use solar dish Stirling systems, or “SunCatchers”, consisting of a solar receiver heat exchanger and a closed-cycle, high efficiency engine designed to convert solar power to rotary power, then driving an electrical generator to produce electricity.

The Genesis and Imperial Valley projects are among nine large solar thermal projects scheduled to go before the commission before the end of the year. More than 4,100 MW of solar power will be added if all nine projects are approved. The nine projects would provide more than 8,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 operational jobs.

The four previously licensed plants are: the 250-MW Beacon Solar Energy Project (Aug. 25); the 250-MW Abengoa Mojave Solar Project (Sept. 8); the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project (Sept. 15); and the 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project (Sept. 22). The 663.5-MW Calico Solar Project is scheduled for the Oct. 28 meeting. Two other projects, the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project and the 150-MW Rice Solar Energy Project, are still under review.

The PMPDs for the Genesis and Imperial Valley projects said the facilities, even with mitigation measures, will have impacts on cultural resources, land use, and visual resources. The Imperial Valley project also will have significant impact on biological resources and would be inconsistent with an Imperial County land use ordinance.

However, the benefits of the projects would override those impacts. The Genesis project will require a peak workforce of 1,085 during construction, with another 50 jobs when the plant is in operation. The Imperial Valley project will need a peak workforce of 731 during construction, with another 164 operational jobs.

The PMPDs were based solely on the record of facts that were established during the facilities’ certification proceedings.

The proposed solar thermal power projects that the Energy Commission is considering will help meet the state’s renewables portfolio standard, which requires California’s electricity utility companies to use renewable energy to produce 20 percent of their power by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020. Solar energy is a main source of renewable power.

The federal government and the state of California have established the need to increase the development and use of renewable energy in order to enhance the nation’s energy independence, meet environmental goals, and create new economic growth opportunities.

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