World largest solar power project approved in U.S.

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) voted on Wednesday to approve the construction of the Blythe Solar Power Project, the largest solar project in the world.

Combined, the four 250 MW (megawatt) plants will deliver 1,000 MW of nominal generating capacity, or enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes annually.

Construction of the first two Blythe power plants is expected to begin by the end of this year.

The Blythe Solar Power Project is being developed by Solar Millennium, LLC, a subsidiary of Solar Trust of America. The project site is located in an unincorporated area of Riverside County, Southern California.

The applicants have applied for a right-of-way authorization from the Bureau of Land Management for 9,400 acres (about 3,800 hectares), with 7,025 acres (about 2,845 hectares) of it for construction and operation.

"We are honored to receive formal approval today from the California Energy Commission," stated Josef Eichhammer, President of Solar Trust of America and CEO of Solar Millennium, LLC. " Together with the State of California's leadership we are committed to restoring the state as the global leader in renewable energy. This multi-billion dollar facility will be the largest solar generating facility in the world and will help solidify that reputation."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement that he applauded the CEC's decision to approve the construction of the Blythe Solar Power Project.

"I am excited to see other solar projects move forward," he said. "Projects like this need our immediate attention, as solar and renewable power are the future of the California economy. Hopefully this approval of the Blythe project will attract more companies to look to the Golden State for their projects."

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 project's proposed 1,000-MW output will be generated by four independent 250-MW units.

The project will initially sell electricity to Southern California Edison, a public electricity facility, through a 20-year power purchase agreement.

This is the third large solar project approved by the CEC over the past few weeks. In August, the Commission approved NextEra's 250 MW Beacon project -- the first large solar project to be approved in the U.S. in two decades. Last week, the CEC approved Abengoa's 250-MW Mojave Solar Project.

In addition to the solar thermal projects, there are more than a dozen other large solar photovoltaic and wind projects seeking permits to break ground in California this year.

Schwarzenegger said California is committed to clean energy that will create jobs, influence national policies and provide a cleaner environment for future generations.

In October of 2009, the governor and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) so that the state and federal government could work together to ensure timely permitting of renewable energy projects. In March, the governor signed into law a new program to make it easier to conserve land for endangered species and for developers to build renewable energy projects in California.

The program will help further streamline and expedite the permitting and siting process for large-scale renewable energy projects that will provide jobs and greater energy independence and attract investment.

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