California OKs Another 650 MWs Of Solar

Continuing a trend that has characterized the second half of 2010, the California Energy Commission approved two more utility-scale solar power plants, totaling 650 megawatts (MWs). The newly approved plants use solar-thermal technology, generating electricity by converting solar radiation into heat energy that then creates steam that powers a turbine.

Both plants are in the desert of eastern Riverside County, and because they impinge on federal lands must still get sign-off from the U.S. Department of the Interior before construction can begin. That, however, might be a foregone conclusion. While the California commission has been on a solar roll lately, licensing nine plants totaling 4,142.5 MWs since August, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has been keeping up, approving eight plants since early October. The commission said it expects the necessary federal approvals for the two projects licensed this week in early 2011.

Sunshine, SolarReserve solar project

image via SolarReserve

Solar Millennium is behind the Palen Solar Power Project, a 500-MW project proposed for a spot halfway between Indio and Blythe. Palen, as planned, will actually consist of two 250-MW plants using the company’s parabolic trough system.

The Rice Solar Energy Project, meanwhile, is set for private land 30 miles northwest of Blythe. Developer SolarReserve said it plans to use what’s known as a tower system, in which a large field of tracking mirrors focus the sun’s thermal energy on a central tower. The system also uses molten salt to retain the heat captured during the day in order to continue producing energy well after sunset if needed, the company said.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.


  • Reply December 17, 2010


    Ya right! They all get approved but then they all get blocked…
    The solar dish is much better than troughs because they don’t need bulldozed land and because they are more efficient

  • Reply December 19, 2010

    Martin Adelman

    This is all fine and well, but with ALL these approved facilities, why are all the mirrors being made in China and India? The people with the ability to manufacture these mirrors could most definitely use the jobs, and it would still be cheaper in the long run to manufacture these mirrors in North America, and distribute them with existing infrastructure as opposed to shipping subsidized product form over seas. Besides, what happened to our national interests and security? Those are valid issues as well. But with these “tax cuts” (which have been in effect while still loosing jobs overseas) there is still no incentive for the “ghost” entities, operating on paper in the US to consider doing the right thing. And what does our government have to say about this whole issue?

  • Reply December 21, 2010

    Pete Danko

    Fireofenergy: Thanks for your comment. It’s true that the Imperial Valley project was blocked, but that’s the only one of the federally approved projects thus far that has run into meaningful trouble. And in that case, it wasn’t the technology that was at issue, but the process. The judge ruled that the BLM hadn’t followed federal law and rules in consulting the Native American tribe.

  • Reply January 31, 2013

    C-m Corr-Holmes

    Desert Center:

    HOW LONG has this been in the works?
    HOW LONG have both Industry and COUNTY been hiding this project from locals, who have gradually lost land there, to make way for this power plant?
    ==The County== has been taking the land by devaluing it, making laws that prevent usage, and by pushing owners to give up and blow away.
    ==Properties there= have been consistently devalued, repeatedly, for over 15 years, while rumors flew about power plants, garbage storage, revived Kaiser mines, etc. Owners have/may have been DEFRAUDED out of the value of their land by agreements kept under the table between County and Industries…to make way for industry by getting owners to give up land by default and other means…..
    ==NOT an ETHICAL beginning for Renewable energy!!!

    • Reply January 31, 2013

      Pete Danko

      I’m don’t understand what project you are talking about. Utility-scale projects need to be approved at the county level, at the state level (CEC and CPUC) and often at the federal level (if there’s any public lands involved). While some might have reason to disagree with the outcome of the process, the typical utility-scale power plant development goes through several years of public review.

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