Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Blythe scraps solar thermal for photovoltaic

Just how low can the price of solar photovoltaic arrays go? Low enough to keep a Riverside County project (and its construction jobs) alive. 

Last week Solar Millennium announced it would pause the Blythe project - proposed as a gigawatt of concentrated solar thermal energy in 2009, approved in 2010 by the Bureau of Land Management and the state of California - for "retooling." The Inland Empire got freaked, a little - that project has meant an oasis of jobs in the desert - ecological, and metaphorical-economic. 

But the retooling is already over. Now half of that power will come from solar panels - 500 megawatts coming from panels like the kind people put on their rooftops.

Blythe needs re-permitting to switch to solar photovoltaic - they're reinitiating the process with the BLM and California's Energy Commission. But Solar Millennium will be able to bring power on more quickly, in a smaller but steadier trickle, once it starts.

What's interesting about this, is this is the latest solar concentrating thermal project to switch direction as the numbers pencil out a little differently over time. Reuters reported last month on at least 4 projects in California and one in New Mexico to do this. 

Also interesting: the deal makes sense to Solar Millennium even without the government's free money. The Department of Energy was offering a 2.1 billion dollar loan for the construction of the first two of four 250-megawatt concentrated solar systems. Now Solar Trust - the foreign parent company of Solar Millennium - will finance the thing on the commercial market. The company says it made this decision along with Southern California Edison - the investor owned utility set to buy the power when it comes on line.