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Riverside Solar Project May Get New Life

12/31/13

Plans for a solar power project near the Riverside County city of Blythe, abandoned after its developer went bankrupt, could be revived.

NextEra Energy is currently trying to bring the proposed project back to life, after buying it from Solar Trust of America, which folded before the plant could be built. Situated on public land just west of Blythe in Riverside County, the solar project was originally planned to be one of the largest in the world at 1,000 megawatts, powered by solar thermal troughs. However, the current proposal is for a 485-megawatt photovoltaic plant, which would take up less land and avoid encroaching on sites that could possibly house fossils, Indian artifacts, and sacred spots, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. At 4,138 acres, this version of the solar project would take up 40 percent less land than its previous incarnation.

NextEra Energy wants to get the permits for the solar plant and have it operational by the end of 2016. The company estimates that the solar project could create roughly 430 jobs annually over a two-year construction period, with about another permanent 20 jobs once the plant is online. When completed, it would offer enough solar power for the equivalent of 171,000 homes per year.

The Florida-based NextEra Energy would have four projects in Riverside East's solar zone if the Blythe project comes to fruition. This zone encompasses 148,000 acres of federal land. The other NextEra Energy solar projects are Genesis (250 megawatts, under construction), Desert Sunlight (550 megawatts, under construction), and McCoy (750 megawatts, approved and awaiting ground breaking).

At a recent town hall meeting held by the Bureau of Land Management, some residents went on record with their support for the project, citing the jobs and business created by the Genesis and Desert Sunlight solar projects. Members of local Indian tribes also cautioned that the project would be close to sacred tribal lands, and the Bureau of Land Management said it would work with the tribes before producing a draft of the project's environmental impact report by late November. Final approval for the solar project could be granted in early 2014.

- Michael Chagala

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