The California Energy Commission Dec. 15 licensed three new power plants--two solar and one natural gas-fired. If eventually constructed, they would have a combined generating capacity of 824 MW. Two of the projects approved were Palen Solar and Rice Solar, the eighth and ninth solar thermal projects approved by the commission since last summer. The 500 MW Palen project would sit on 5,200 acres of public land in an unincorporated area of Riverside County about 35 miles west of Blythe. The applicant is German-based renewable energy company Solar Millennium. A number of special interest groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, California Unions for Reliable Energy, and Californians for Renewable Energy, intervened in the project’s approval process. Among their concerns was that the Palen project would disturb local wildlife and that usage of the large swaths of land hadn’t been approved by the Bureau of Land Management. Solar Millennium currently has a right-of-way application for the Palen facility before the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM is expected to rule on the application in the next several weeks. Commissioner Bob Weisenmiller thanked intervenors for their participation in the process, saying their comments over the past 13 months helped make the project better. “The project is not perfect, but I’m comfortable moving forward,” he said. The other proposed plant, the 150 MW Rice Solar, is proposed by a subsidiary of the Santa Monica-based company SolarReserve. It would be located on about 1,410 acres of a 2,560-acre parcel of land in eastern Riverside County about 40 miles northwest of Blythe. Unlike the Palen facility, which would be on publicly-owned ground, the Rice project is slated for disturbed private land. Commissioners praised the location as being nearly ideal. “It’s where we want to be; it’s on private land, it’s on disturbed land,” Weisenmiller said. “This might be as close as we get” to a perfect solar project, added commissioner Jeff Byron. If all nine solar projects approved by the commission since the summer are eventually constructed as designed, it would mean an additional 4,100 MW of solar power in the Mojave Desert region. “The construction of these large-scale solar projects will help us meet our long-term energy and environmental goals, while creating jobs and moving us toward a cleaner, more sustainable future,” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated. The third facility licensed was the Almond 2 Power Plant Project, a natural-gas-fired, simple-cycle peaking facility. The 174 MW project would be located on a four-and-a-half-acre parcel next to the existing 48 MW Almond Power Plant in an industrial area about five miles from Modesto in Stanislaus County. Almond 2 is designed to provide the Turlock Irrigation District with operating reserves.