SACRAMENTO – The California Energy Commission today approved the Calico Solar Project in San Bernardino County, the seventh solar power plant licensed in the past two months.
Since August, the Commission has licensed 3,492.5 megawatts of renewable solar power in the California desert.
The Energy Commission unanimously adopted the presiding member’s proposed decision (PMPD) that recommended licensing the 663.5-MW project. In order to qualify for federal stimulus funds, the project needed to be approved by the Energy Commission before December 31, 2010. During the construction of the Calico Solar Project, a peak workforce of 700 will be required, with another 180 jobs when the plant is in operation.
“California’s commitment to increasing the amount of clean, renewable solar power is demonstrated in today’s licensing decision,” said Energy Commissioner Anthony Eggert. “These desert solar projects will provide clean power for our schools, homes, and businesses while reducing fossil fuel consumption, creating local jobs, and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten California’s economy and environment.”
Eggert was the presiding member of the committee that reviewed the plant’s application for certification.
The project is a direct result of the successful partnership between California and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). In October 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made California 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 Calico project is the fifth commercial solar energy project permitted on federal public land in the United States. The project can proceed since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which approves the use of federal public lands, issued its approval on October 20.
The Calico Solar Project is being developed by Calico Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of Tessera Solar, on approximately 4,613 acres of land managed by the BLM. The project site in the Mojave Desert is near Interstate 40 approximately 37 miles east of Barstow and 17 miles east of Newberry Springs.
The project initially had been proposed as an 850-MW facility on 8,230 acres, but Calico Solar, LLC had worked with Commission staff to reduce it to 6,215 acres. Even so, the committee reviewing the project couldn’t recommend approval because of the scope and scale of high quality habitat affecting desert tortoise and bighorn sheep that would be affected. The committee required Calico Solar present additional reduced footprint alternatives that minimized the project’s impacts on environmental resources, primarily the desert tortoise.
Calico’s 4,613-acre footprint significantly reduced the environmental impacts on desert tortoises and their habitat by 79 percent.
The primary equipment for the generating facility would be solar dish Stirling systems, or “SunCatchers.” Each SunCatcher consists 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 Calico Solar Project is among nine large solar thermal projects scheduled to go before the Commission before the end of the year. More than 4,100 megawatts 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 six previously licensed plants are: the 250-MW Abengoa Mojave Solar Project (Sept. 8); the 250-MW Beacon Solar Energy Project (Aug. 25); the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project (Sept. 15); the 250-MW Genesis Solar Energy Project (Sept. 29); the 709-MW Imperial Valley Solar Project (Sept. 29); and the 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project (Sept. 22). Two other projects, the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project and the 150-MW Rice Solar Energy Project, are still under review.
The PMPD for the Calico project said the facility, even with mitigation measures, will have significant environmental impacts in the areas of cultural resources, land use, and visual resources. However, the benefits of the project would override those impacts. In addition, the committee determined that the project complies with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards.
The PMPD was based solely on the record of facts that were established during the facility’s 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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