The California Energy Commission (CEC) last week unanimously approved construction and operation of Solar Millennium’s 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project. If built, the project, consisting of four parabolic trough units, could be the world’s largest concentrating solar power (CSP) facility and among the first commercial solar thermal plants permitted on federal land.

The CEC’s adoption the presiding member’s proposed decision (PMPD) that recommended licensing the facility proposed for eastern Riverside County marks a major permitting milestone for the project. The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is now scheduled to make a decision on whether to greenlight the project’s construction at the end of October. The BLM ruling is the final step before the project can proceed.

The CEC said that the PMPD for the Blythe Solar Power Project indicated that even with mitigation measures, the project would have significant impacts on cultural resources, land use, traffic and transportation, and visual resources. “The project will also be inconsistent with a land use provision in the Riverside County Land Use Plan,” the commission said. “However, the benefits of the project would justify a legal override of those impacts. In addition, the committee determined the project complies with all other applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards.”

Solar Millennium, a subsidiary of Solar Trust of America, said in a statement last week that it intends to begin building the two of the four 250-MW parabolic trough units this year, once it receives approval from the BLM. The four units should all be operational by 2013. This fall, the $1 billion project will also likely to receive financing, including loan guarantees and grants from the U.S. government, the German company said.

“Once the first two plants are connected to the grid in 2013 and 2014, we will have implemented the Desertec idea in California,” said Solar Millennium spokesperson Thomas Mayer, referencing a European—mainly German-led—initiative to build and harvest solar thermal power from the Sahara Desert for use in Europe.

The Blythe Solar Power Project is the third solar thermal project that the Commission has approved in three weeks. The 250-MW Beacon Solar Energy Project, the first solar thermal power plant permitted in that state in 20 years, was licensed Aug. 25 and the 250-MW Abengoa Mojave Solar Project on Sept. 8.

In total, nine large solar thermal projects are scheduled to go before the Energy Commission for a decision before the end of 2010 in order to qualify for federal stimulus funds. Along with the Beacon Solar Energy Project and Abengoa’s Mojave Desert project, these include: the 850-MW Calico Solar Project; the 250-MW Genesis Solar Energy Project; the 709-MW Imperial Valley Solar Project; the 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Project; the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project; and the 150-MW Rice Solar Energy Project. According to the CEC, more than 4,300 MW of solar power will be added if all nine projects are approved.

Sources: CEC, Solar Millennium, POWERnews