Feds Back Grid Connect For Power-Tower Plant

All that electricity produced by utility-scale solar-power plants out in the California desert has to make it to the grid, and that means new transmission infrastructure. The proposed Rice Solar Energy Project in eastern Riverside County now has the go-ahead for that necessary component after the Obama administration signed off on its connecting power line.

The Rice project itself – a 150-megawatt power-tower plant with liquid-salt energy storage – is actually planned for private land by developer SolarReserve. However, eight miles of above-ground, 230-kilovolt transmission line that would feed the power to the Western Area Power Administration’s Parker-Blythe #2 transmission line crosses ground overseen Bureau of Land Management (BLM). That put it in the bailiwick of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and he gave it a thumbs up.

Rice Solar Energy Project

image via SolarReserve

One of Salazar’s lieutenants, BLM Director Bob Abbey, said the siting of the plant makes this project much less of an environmental tussle than others have been.

“This project will be on an abandoned airfield near Blythe,” Abbey said in a statement. “By siting it on already disturbed land, we are able to do something the public has told us is a priority – avoiding impacts to undisturbed areas in the desert.”

According to the Press-Enterprise newspaper, Rice Army Airfield and Camp Rice were developed during World War II with two 5,000-foot runways and barracks that could house 3,000 soldiers. Used by Gen. George S. Patton to train his troops to fight in North Africa, the land passed to private ownership after the war and then was abandoned in the late 1950s. Jacque Schindewolf, the conservator of General Patton Memorial Museum in the county, “said she knows of no one opposed to redevelopment of the air field area,” the newspaper reported.

SolarReserve has a 25-year power-purchase agreement in place with Pacific Gas & Electric for the electricity produced from Rice, which was approved by the California Energy Commission late last year, but there was no word in the Salazar news release on when the company might begin construction on the project.

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.