The Calico project received a positive "Final Record of Decision" from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (as the BLM is part of the Department of the Interior). This is the fifthsolarapproval this month (Tessera's Imperial dish-engine plant, Chevron's Lucerne PV plant, BrightSource's Ivanpah tower plant, and First Solar's Silver State).
While this is a big one, Calico still has several important hurdles to clear.
1) Final decision from the CA Energy Commission (expected 10/28)
2) Receive a conditional commitment from the DOE Loan Guarantee program before 12/31/10 (that is the date that construction needs to start in order to receive the 30% Treasury Grant Program, rather than a tax credit)
3) Secure debt and equity financing for the balance of the project that won't be covered by the Federal Loan Guarantee / Treasury Cash Grant Program. Calico Phase I is 275 MW, so at $3.50/W-ac installed that would be ~$1,000M. Assuming debt covers 80% ($800M), the loan guarantee would cover up to 80% of that debt ($640M). That means Tessera/Stirling will need to raise ~$200M in sponsor equity, and another $160M in private-sector debt . And that is just for Calico. It also needs to raise similar amounts for phase I of Imperial.
The plan originally called for the combined phase I and II to total 850 MW, but in order to minimize impact on desert tortoises and bighorn sheep, the project was resized from 8,230 acres to 4,604 acres (allowing for 663.5 MW on BLM land). A representative from Tessera mentioned that the signed PPAs are for 850 MW, and so they plan to secure additional private land adjacent to the public site in order to still build the full 850 MW at Calico.
And while concentrating solar thermal (CST) has been losing projects to cheaper PV, this approval is a big win for the concentrating industry. Now, if only the folks at the Dept. of Energy Loan Guarantee program could steal a page from Salazar's playbook, and go on an approval rampage.