The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved NextEra Energy’s plans to convert the Blythe Solar Power project in Southern California from concentrating solar power (CSP) technology to solar photovoltaic (PV) techn

Despite findings of unmitigable biological, cultural, land use and visual impacts, CEC found that project benefits outweigh those concerns. The project now must seek approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The commission voted 5-0 to adopt a recommendation of approval for the 485 MW project made in December 2013. "The project will spur California’s transition to renewable energy and help advance its aggressive climate change goals," said Commissioner Karen Douglas, the author of the December decision.

In this ruling and the earlier presiding member’s proposed decision, CEC members have overridden cumulative impacts of this project and others in the region found by CEC staff in its assessment, which were described as “significant”.

These include loss of habitat for the desert tortoise, which has been a key issue in decisions over other large solar projects in the deserts of Southern California.

Benefits of the project cited by the CEC include its contribution to meeting the state’s renewable energy mandates, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, creation of construction jobs, and economic development.

The project will be located on 16.5 square kilometers of public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management near the Arizona border. As proposed by now-defunct Solar Millennium AG the project was originally a 1,000 MW CSP plant; however NextEra has reduced both the project’s capacity and switched technologies.

The plant will represent an estimated investment of USD 1.13 billion, and NextEra reports that it is in discussions with several off-takers for the electricity generated. The company plans to build the plant in three initial 125 MW phases followed by a 110 MW phase.