U.S. approves world’s biggest concentrating solar power project

Solar Trust of America, LLC announced that its project development subsidiary, Solar Millennium, LLC, has secured a Record of Decision (ROD) from the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approving the Blythe Solar Power Plant’s Right of Way Grant.

The ROD is the final regulatory milestone in the federal permitting process and it paves the way for Solar Millennium, LLC to build and operate its Blythe Solar Power Project, which will be the largest solar thermal facility in the world.

Located in Riverside County, California, the Blythe solar power facility, will be the first parabolic trough solar facility approved on U.S. public land. It will consist of four 250 MW plants that together will deliver 1,000 MW of nominal generating capacity, or enough electricity to annually power more than 300,000 single-family homes. Upon completion the Blythe facility will increase the solar electricity production capacity of the U.S. by more than double, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy. Construction of the multi-billion dollar facility is expected to begin by the end of the year.

Uwe T. Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Solar Trust of America and Executive Chairman of Solar Millennium, LLC, said the ROD comes at a critical time for America’s renewable energy initiatives and demonstrates its potential as a driver of economic and environmental progress. “This is a historic day not only for our Blythe Solar Power Project but for the entire renewable energy industry. As we move to the construction phase of our Blythe plant, we will clearly demonstrate how solar energy can help power California’s and our country’s future while creating thousands of jobs and stimulating the local and state economies.”

“The Blythe Solar Power Project is a major milestone in our nation’s renewable energy economy and shows that the United States intends to compete and lead in the technologies of the future,” Secretary Ken Salazar said in signing the ROD. “This project shows in a real way how harnessing our own renewable resources can create good jobs here at home.”

Josef Eichhammer, President of Solar Trust of America and CEO of Solar Millennium, LLC, said, “There is enormous potential for additional solar thermal power plants and the Blythe project is just the beginning.” He cited the unprecedented cooperation between U.S. Interior Secretary Salazar and Governor Schwarzenegger as contributing to the project’s success and he noted that their mutual prioritization of renewable energy projects over the last two years has also been important to the solar industry.

The company is in advanced discussions with the U.S. Department of Energy‘s (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program to secure debt financing for the first two units at Blythe and is also in discussions with investors regarding project equity and tax equity in conjunction with its financial advisors, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank.

Converting the high-intensity solar radiation of the California desert into electricity will bring a host of environmental benefits to the state. Once constructed, the Blythe facility will reduce CO2 emissions by nearly one million short tons per year, or the equivalent of removing more than 145,000 cars from the road. Additionally, because the facility is “dry-cooled,” it will use 90 percent less water than a traditional “wet-cooled” solar facility of this size.

The Blythe facility will also help California take a major step toward achieving its goal of having one third of the state’s power come from renewable sources by the year 2020. The facility is also expected to deliver almost ten percent towards the Energy Policy Act of 2005’s 10 Gigawatt goal for renewable energy generation on public lands by 2015.

In addition to environmental benefits, the project will provide a substantial boost to the Riverside County economy. The entire Blythe Solar Power Project will generate a total of more than 7,500 jobs, including 1,000 direct jobs during the construction period, and thousands of additional indirect jobs in the community and throughout the supply chain. When the 1,000 MW facility is fully operational it will create more than 220 permanent jobs.

Joey DeConinck, Mayor of the City of Blythe, recognized Solar Millennium for its accomplishment and exceptional collaboration with the local community. “Solar Millennium has done an outstanding job of reaching out to our community and putting together a project that fits well with our city and will benefit our residents long into the future,” said DeConinck. “I think all Blythe residents will be extremely pleased to hear of the BLM’s decision so we can get this project going for Blythe.”

The ROD and Right-Of-Way Grant and conditions for the Blythe Solar Power Project are available online http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en.html. The project underwent extensive public environment review by the BLM through a draft and final environmental impact statement (FEIS). Solar Millennium will employ a range of mitigation measures designed to reduce any potential impacts from the project, most notably the use of dry-cooling technology. “Solar Millennium has been working in cooperation with the environmental community for several years to ensure that the Blythe project is developed in an environmentally responsible manner,” added Eichhammer.

Solar Trust of America, LLC is an integrated industrial solar solutions company strategically positioned to support the critical need for renewable energy generation in the United States. The company’s Project Development, Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC), financial resources and operational management expertise ensures the delivery of a fully integrated concentrated solar power solution using commercially viable and proven parabolic trough solar thermal energy technology.

Together with its wholly owned U.S. development subsidiary, Oakland, California-based Solar Millennium, LLC, and global business partners Solar Millennium AG and Ferrostaal AG, Solar Trust of America is actively pursuing the construction and development of multiple solar thermal power plants across the southwestern U.S. In addition to the Blythe Solar Power Project, the company currently has solar thermal energy power plants in advanced stages of development near Desert Center and Ridgecrest, California, as well as in the Amargosa Valley near Las Vegas, Nevada.