California approves two more gigantic solar plants

California is at it again!

Today (Sept. 29) the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved the Genesis Solar Energy Project and the Imperial Valley Solar Project, together accounting for nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of new solar projects. The moves are just the latest developments as solar developers work to take advantage of the bonanza of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds that are set to expire at the end of 2010.

This is another in a series of actions to meet the requirements of California’s renewable energy standard, which requires utilities to source 20 percent of all the power they generate from renewable sources by the end of 2010.

In all, the CEC has approved 2.8 GW of new solar projects this year. And it could approve up to 4.3 GW of projects before 2010 is over. The two projects today are still pending a final decision by the Bureau of Land Management, which will make two separate decisions later this month as to whether or not to allow the projects access to BLM lands, explained commission spokesperson Sandy Louey.

The 709 megawatt (MW) Imperial Valley Solar project in Imperial County is the larger of the two projects. BLM approval “should happen in the next week,” said Janette Coates, spokesperson for Tessera Solar.

Tessera Solar’s Imperial Valley Solar, LLC is developing the project, which will produce electricity with SunCatchers’ concentrated solar power generators, using Stirling engines to produce electricity. The company expects to break ground on the project later this year, she said, but could not furnish a date because the project is still pending BLM approval. To help finance the project, she explained that the company is seeking a DOE loan-guarantee offered through ARRA.

The project would be located on approximately 6,140 acres of land, managed by the BLM, and about 360 acres of privately-owned land.

The other project approved today, the 250 MW Genesis Solar Energy Project, will be developed by NextEra Energy Resources LLC subsidiary Genesis Solar LLC. The project is seeking BLM approval for a right-of-way for 4,640 acres, according to CEC press release.

“I think by and large people are supportive of these projects,” said NextEra spokesperson Steve Stengel. “All of these projects have gone through extensive regulatory review”

NextEra expects BLM approval “in the next 30 days or so,” he said. The company already has a power-purchase agreement with PG&E, a California utility, for the new project, he said. NextEra also operates what is now the world’s largest solar plant, SEGS and “we have for 20 years,” Stengel stated.

“We plan to begin in initial site work by very late this year and plan to apply for a loan guarantee and CITC grants [i.e. ARRA grants] to support development of this project,” Stengel said.

But, despite all the projects underway, whether or not California will succeed in meeting 20 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2011 remains to be seen.

“We won’t know till the end of year,” said Louey. But she noted that the state met 13.9 percent of its electric needs with renewables last year—it’s a good sign.