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California: 500 MW Blythe project abandons CSP in favor of PV

The first 500 megawatt (MW) phase of the one gigawatt Blythe solar project will be converted to use photovoltaics instead of concentrated solar power (CSP). In a surprising turnaround, Solar Millennium AG made the announcement, along with its U.S. subsidiary, Solar Trust of America. The reason cited was the current "favorable" conditions in both the photovoltaic and the U.S. commercial lending markets.

When asked if the project, expected to be the largest of its kind when completed, will use photovoltaics or CSP in its remaining phase, a spokesperson said, "This depends on the market conditions. CSP can be added if the market conditions change." They added that, due to the fact the project has to be "partly re-permitted", grid connection delays - originally set for 2014 - are expected. However, they said that financing and construction should be realized faster.

Meanwhile, in terms of converting the Blythe site to photovoltaics, the construction work, which began back in June, and has included building roads and fencing, can be used without any changes.

In a statement released, Solar Millennium and Solar Trust of America have said they are now in discussions with unnamed, "leading" photovoltaic panel manufacturers, and engineering, procurement and construction contractors. In a statement, Christoph Wolff, Solar Millennium CEO, explained, "Solar Millennium responds quickly and pragmatically to market conditions, and at the moment the California market favors PV technology. We are taking decisive steps in the U.S. to maximize site value for our company and our shareholders." Back in April, the parties involved were offered a conditional commitment for a U.S. $2.1 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to develop 500 MW of CSP.

The spokesperson additionally said that CSP is "too unknown" for commercial funding, and that the timeline of August, given to them by the DOE, was "too short to realize non-commercial FC for Blythe as a CSP project". They added, "DoE understands the benefits of CSP, but the tariff structures do not take these benefits under consideration, yet."

Solar Millennium, which primarily operates in the CSP market, says the technology will still remain its key focus. Wolff stated, "Our long-term strategy remains unchanged. We see solid demand for CSP in the world's growth markets such as Africa, the Middle East, India and China. This is also true for Southern Europe where we have just achieved financial close on our fourth CSP plant in Spain."

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