While I've been off participating in the daily dispensation of justice under the law, a big solar project in Riverside County is hitting the skids. Solar Millennium is the German parent company behind Solar Trust, the Oakland-based company backing the Blythe Solar Power Project, and it's seeking Deutsche court protection for its debts.
Blythe's Solar Power Project won more than 2 million dollars in loan guarantees from the federal Department of Energy last year. Cue the turmoil: originally slated to use parabolic photovoltaic technology, plans shifted when project managers later ran the numbers and figured out that using solar photovoltaic panels penciled out better, largely because the price of PV had dropped precipitously. That forced the Solar Trust of America to gave up the loan guarantee.
It's the only economic development going in the immediate area, and the town of Blythe is looking for a big boost from the project's growth. Maybe still looking. The California Energy Commission and the federal Bureau of Land Management both approved the project in the fall of 2010. Blythe has a footprint now, where preparation work had begun on the site. In its story today, Reuters reports that the city of Blythe isn't giving up hope:
"We have been working with Solar Trust of America for a couple of years in getting this project going," David Lane, Blythe's city manager, said in an interview. "Although the project is not in the city limits, we are the only city within 100 miles. My sense is that with the large investment in what was to have been the world's largest solar power plant, someone somewhere will buy it and build it."
We last talked about Blythe when reporting about the "road map" the federal government drew up to help encourage solar development in some federal lands in western states. An area next to Blythe that stretches to Joshua Tree is the largest in the "road map," even after it was shrunk by a quarter of its size last fall.
Opponents from the desert conservation community and from the Republican party could easily unite behind this bankruptcy news. Desert conservationists including the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Conservation Association have criticized the several "fast track" solar projects approved for California deserts for, among other reasons, threatening desert tortoises and having a significant footprint size that they contend disturbs the desert ecosystem. It could be an opportunity for them to again argue for caution. And a particular brand of anti-Solyndra sentiment, documented here and in the Debord Report, has never quite burned away in the GOP even though a year of investigation has yielded little beyond maybe sort of embarassing emails written by federal officials, even when the inquiry has been expanded past Solyndra.