California to Own Bragging Rights to Largest Solar and Wind Projects in the World?

After nearly a decade of delays, the largest wind farm in the U.S. is finally moving forward in one of California’s remaining premium wind resource regions, a spot where the Tehachapi Mountains touch the Mojave Desert in southern California.

Developed by New York-based Terra-Gen Power, the project is expected to grow to 3 gigawatts (GW) over the next eight years, and features turbines manufactured by General Electric and Vestas.

After California incubated the first wave of wind generation projects in the ’80s under the leadership of former Governor Jerry Brown (who is now running for governor again this year) both Texas (9,708 MW) and Iowa (3,670 MW) have blown ahead and now generate more wind power than California (just 2,739 MW.) The Alta Wind Energy Center will produce nearly three times as much power as the current largest wind project, and will allow California to reclaim its leadership role in promoting wind power by boosting the state’s current wind capacity by 25 percent.

Not only will this first-phase 1,550 MW wind project be the largest wind project in the entire U.S., but the transmission system designed to bring this clean electricity to market is also the largest new transmission development to date in the U.S. A key factor in allowing the mega-project to move forward was over $1 billion in financing which came together this past June.

The key to allowing the project to move forward after ownership changes and lingering opposition to the project delayed implementation was the completion of a new transmission line last year, the first major expansion of the state’s grid in more than 10 years. This gigantic project is expected to start delivering clean electricity to Southern California Edison in early 2011.

California is also making its mark on the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) front. Developed by Solar Millennium, LLC, a subsidiary of Solar Trust of America, the Blythe Solar Power Project won approval from the California Energy Commission just last week. The project site is located in an unincorporated area of Riverside County, California.

The proposed project would use parabolic trough technology where parabolic mirrors are used to heat a transfer fluid which is then used to generate steam. Electricity is produced from the steam expanding through steam turbine generators. The project’s proposed 1,000-MW output will be generated by four independent 250-MW units.

Having received formal approval from the CEC, the Blythe Solar Power Project must now secure a “record of decision” approving the project’s right of way grant from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which is expected this coming fall. The company is also actively pursuing completion of financing with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Guarantee program for the first phase of the project, representing approximately 500 MW of generating capacity.

This is the third large CSP project approved by state agencies over the past few weeks. In August, the CEC approved NextEra’s 250 MW Beacon project—the first large solar project to be approved in the U.S. in two decades. Earlier in September, the CEC also approved Abengoa’s 250-MW Mojave Solar Project. By the end of September, they are expected to vote on BrightSource’s 370-MW Ivanpah project, Tessera/Stirling’s 750-MW Imperial Project and NextEra’s 250-MW Genesis Project.

All of these CSP projects are scheduled to go before the CEC for decisions by the end of the year in order to qualify for federal stimulus dollars.

Article by Peter Asmus, appearing courtesy Matter Network.

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