The developer of a solar project proposed for 4,600 acres of public land 17 miles east of Newberry Springs received approval from the secretary of the interior Wednesday.

Secretary Ken Salazar authorized the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to offer a right-of-way grant to Tessera Solar, allowing the company to build the Calico Solar Project on public land. The Texas-based company now waits for approval from the California Energy Commission. The energy commission is expected to make its decision Oct. 28.

Tessera Solar received BLM permission after reducing the project's size from about 8,230 acres to address wildlife habitat concerns from the energy commission. The power the project is expected to produce has also decreased to 663.5 megawatts, enough to power roughly 500,000 homes.

According to company spokesperson Janette Coates, Tessera still has a power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison to provide 850 megawatts of electricity. Company officials are considering acquiring private land near the project to satisfy its side of the agreement.

"The original project footprint was 8,230 acres and in the summer (we) reduced the project size to 6,215 acres," Coates said, adding that the CEC was still concerned about the project's impact to the California desert tortoise. "(The CEC) adopted one of our proposals, which is approximately 4,600 acres."

The project's smaller footprint will affect about 22 tortoises, according to the Department of the Interior.

Once the energy commission makes its decision, company officials will work to secure funding for the project. At 850 megawatts, the solar project is worth about $2.5 billion, Coates said.

Tessera Solar will be eligible for federal stimulus funding for 30 percent of the project.

Tessera Solar is also pursuing a loan from the Department of Energy, Coates said. A construction date hasn't been set yet.

The Calico Solar Project is one of five renewable energy projects on public land in California to receive federal approval. The project started its environmental review June 2009.

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(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com