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Here we go again! Back to the Mojave Desert!

The California Energy Commission (CEC) yesterday approved plans to build a 250-megawatt Beacon Solar Energy thermal solar plant at the western edge of the Mojave Desert, 15 miles north of the town of Mojave (at WGS84 35° 3′ 9″ N, 118° 10′ 26″ W), itself. The solar farm will cover about 2,012 acres in Kern County, and may be just the first of many to be approved before the end of this year!

The Beacon project may be the first solar thermal project to be built in California in 20 years. Two years ago, CEC granted “a certificate to construct and operate” the Victorville 2 Hybrid Power Plant that included over 250 acres of parabolic solar-thermal collectors that would generate 50 megawatts. The hybrid natural gas and solar plant was to be built on the site of the former George Air Force Base, but the project is on hold while private investors are sought, since the city no longer has the funds needed to complete the project.

Prior to that project, the last solar thermal plant to be approved, “… on February 14, 1990, was a combination solar thermal and natural gas plant near Harper Dry Lake in San Bernardino County. It went operational in November 1990 and is owned by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources.”

Beside the Beacon project, CEC should vote “yes or no” on about a DOZEN large-scale projects that involve solar thermal energy before the end of 2010! The reason for the rush is that a Treasury grant program and the Department of Energy renewable-energy loan-guarantee program BOTH are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

The Beacon project did not require Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval, since it will be developed completely on private land. Other projects, which would be built on Mojave Desert preserve lands will require BLM approval. BLM has received requests for approval of 34 different solar thermal projects, totalling 24,000 megawatts and covering over 300,000 acres of the Mojave Desert.

CEC and BLM have signed a memorandum of understanding (PDF) to form a joint review process to cope with the influx of requests. BLM has jurisdiction over 264 million acres of public lands.

-Bill at

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