U.S. Markets closed

California finds issues with NextEra's planned solar plant

Oct 15 (Reuters) - The staff at the California Energy Commission found some environmental issues with U.S. power company NextEra Energy Inc's proposed 485-megawatt Blythe solar power plant near California, the commission said in a release on Tuesday.

The staff report is not the state's final decision on the $1.13 billion solar photovoltaic project, but serves as its testimony in the commission's decision-making process.

The staff released its assessment in two parts.

In the first, released in late September, the staff said the environmental impact of the project "would be less than significant" with the implementation of recommended mitigation measures.

But in the second part, released last week, the staff said the project would have "significant cumulative environmental impacts in the areas of biological resources, cultural resources, land use, and visual resources even with the implementation of staff's recommended mitigation measures."

Officials at NextEra were not immediately available for comment.

Power traders have noted a negative staff report does not kill a project. The commission does not always follow the staff assessments and developers often make changes in response to the recommendations.

In September 2010, the commission approved the 1,000-MW Blythe solar power project using solar thermal parabolic trough technology. The project is located near Blythe in eastern Riverside County about 225 miles (362 kms) east of Los Angeles.

The solar thermal plant would be located on 7,043 acres of federal land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Solar Millennium, the project's original owner, which went bankrupt in 2011, filed an amendment in June 2012 with the commission requesting to switch the technology to solar photovoltaic.

In April 2013, a unit of NextEra, the new project owner, filed a revised amendment with the Commission to reduce the project's physical size and the generation capacity.

NextEra wants to build the current 485-MW project in four phases, with the first three consisting of 125 MW and the fourth generating 110 MW.

In addition, to approval from the state commission, the amended project requires a revised right-of-way grant from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

If the project is approved, NextEra has told the commission construction would last 48 months with an average workforce of 341 workers during construction and 15 once the plant enters service.