Calico Concentrating Solar Power Project Receives Approval

The California Energy Commission has seven proposals for solar power plants in the desert. California has over 270 renewable-energy projects in progress, which can produce approximately 70,000 MW of clean power.

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is emerging as one of the most promising sources of renewable energy for the 21st century. Tessera Solar is the exclusive developer and operator of the SunCatcher™ solar dish Stirling system developed by Stirling Energy Systems, Inc. (SES). It is the highest efficiency solar-to-grid electricity solution ever developed.

Tessera Solar’s Calico Solar Project completed the joint state and federal approval process with today’s California Energy Commission (CEC) approval. The CEC’s decision follows last week’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Record of Decision (ROD).

The 663.5 MW Calico Solar Project is located on 4,613 acres in San Bernardino County, 37 miles east of Barstow, California. Tessera Solar has a 20]year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Southern California Edison for the solar energy generated from the Calico Solar project.

Throughout the federal and state permitting processes, Tessera Solar made a number of significant changes to reduce the Project’s impacts on the desert environment and to reduce the amount of acquired and donated lands within the project boundary.

Tessera Solar reduced the original 8,230 acre Calico Solar project footprint by 44% in response to concerns expressed by the agencies and environmental organizations.

“This is a significant achievement for the organization and a reflection of collaborative coordination between our staff, the CEC and BLM in achieving approval of the Calico Solar Project,” said Tessera Solar North America CEO Bob Lukefahr. “Tessera Solar would like to recognize the tremendous commitment and unprecedented delivery of the many people involved in the permitting process including the Department of the Interior, BLM, CEC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, other stakeholders, our consulting partners and our staff.”

The company’s first plant, Maricopa Solar, began operations in Arizona in January 2010. With two of the world’s largest solar farms scheduled to begin construction in California at the end of 2010, Tessera Solar is about to change the way people think about solar as the preeminent renewable energy source for the 21st century.

Calico Solar, a subsidiary of Tessera Solar North America based in Houston, is supporting the project. The company had to decrease the power of 850 MW generated over 8,200 acres of land to protect the habitat for the endangered desert tortoise and the bighorn sheep.

The Calico solar project will generate 180 permanent operating jobs after the completion of the project, and employ 700 people for the construction. The SunCatcher solar dishes, designed for the project, will be installed on the Mojave Desert in Barstow.

Tessera Solar North America is a unit of NTR, a renewable-energy company in Ireland. In addition, Calico Solar is currently working on another project, called Imperial Valley Solar Project.

California Agency Licenses 663-MW Calico ‘SunCatcher’ Solar Plant

The California Energy Commission has approved the giant Calico Solar Project, the seventh solar power plant the commission has licensed in the past two months, marking a sudden and remarkable shift in the sourcing of the electricity Californians will receive in coming years.

Since August, the commission has licensed 3,492.5 megawatts of renewable solar power capacity in the Southern California deserts. That is a measure of the maximum rated electrical output at a particular point in time. For comparison, the hulking Hoover Dam between Nevada and Arizona, which sends the majority of its energy to California, has a rated capacity of 2,080 megawatts.

California’s two large nuclear power plants, at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, have rated capacities of 2,254 and 2,202 megawatts respectively. Although the solar power plants produce energy in the daytime, their generation coincides relatively closely with the daily rise and fall in electricity demand. Numerous private and governmental studies are examining ways to cost-effectively store renewable electricity to extend its use into evening hours.

Power produced from the state’s newly approved solar projects, which will take years to fully build out, will be transmitted to electricity customers throughout California by the private utility companies Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called the state’s dramatic adoption of solar as a mainstream energy source “absolutely revolutionary.”

The Calico project, to be built on public lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, already has received clearance from the bureau.

The state Energy Commission unanimously adopted a proposed decision that recommended licensing the 663.5-megawatt project.

To qualify for federal stimulus funds, the project had to be approved by the Energy Commission before Dec. 31, 2010. During the construction of the Calico Solar Project, a peak workforce of 700 will be required, the Energy Commission reported, about 200 more than the Bureau of Land Management had estimated.

"California’s commitment to increasing the amount of clean, renewable solar power is demonstrated in today’s licensing decision," said Energy Commissioner Anthony Eggert.

"These desert solar projects will provide clean power for our schools, homes and businesses while reducing fossil fuel consumption, creating local jobs, and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten California’s economy and environment," said Mr. Eggert, who was the presiding member of the committee that reviewed the plant’s application for certification.

The project is a direct result of a yearlong partnership between California state officials and the U.S. Department of the Interior. In October 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made California the first state to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Interior Department to develop long-term renewable energy plans through state and federal permitting processes that can receive 30 percent federal tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Calico project is one of six commercial solar energy projects to have received permits for the use of federal public land in the past month. The Bureau of Land Management issued its approval Oct. 20.

The Calico Solar Project is being developed by Calico Solar, a subsidiary of Tessera Solar, on about 4,613 acres in the Mojave Desert near Interstate 40. The site is about 37 miles east of Barstow.

The project initially had been proposed as an 850-megawatt complex on 8,230 acres, but Calico Solar worked with commission staff members to reduce it to 6,215 acres. Even so, the committee reviewing the project did not initially recommend approval because of the scope and scale of high-quality habitat that would be used, affecting desert tortoises and bighorn sheep. The committee required Calico Solar to present additional alternatives that minimized the project’s impacts on environmental resources, primarily the desert tortoise.

Calico’s eventual 4,613-acre footprint reduced the environmental impacts on desert tortoises and their habitat by 79 percent.

The primary equipment for the thermal generating facility will be solar dish Stirling systems, which the company calls "SunCatchers." Each SunCatcher consists of a solar receiver, a heat exchanger and a closed-cycle, high-efficiency engine designed to convert solar energy to rotary power, driving an electrical generator to produce electricity.

For the Calico project, about 26,450 of the giant, 38-foot-diameter SunCatchers are to be arrayed in groups of 60. Construction is to begin this year and take almost four years to complete. Power is to be available to the grid as each 60-SunCatcher group is built.

The Calico Solar Project is among nine large solar thermal projects scheduled to go before the commission before the end of the year. Seven have been approved, with two still under review. More than 4,100 megawatts of solar power will be added if all nine projects are approved. The nine projects would provide more than 8,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 operational jobs.

The six previously licensed plants are: the 250-megawatt Abengoa Mojave Solar Project (Sept. 8); the 250-MW Beacon Solar Energy Project (Aug. 25); the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project (Sept. 15); the 250-MW Genesis Solar Energy Project (Sept. 29); the 709-MW Imperial Valley Solar Project (Sept. 29); and the 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (Sept. 22). The two other projects still under review are the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Power Project and the 150-MW Rice Solar Energy Project.

The presiding member’s proposed decision for the Calico project said the complex, even with mitigation measures, will have significant effects on cultural resources, land use and visual resources. However, the benefits of the project would override those impacts, the commission determined.

Huge Blythe Solar Complex Approved; 1,000 Megawatts, Up to 1,100 Jobs

The sudden emergence of solar power as a mainstream energy source in California continues, with the announcement that the U.S. Department of the Interior has approved the nearly 1,000-megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project.

Estimates of the number of construction jobs that will be needed for the project range from about 600 to nearly 1,100. The complex is to be built in four phases of 242 megawatts each over the next five to six years on the outskirts of Blythe, an agricultural community with high unemployment near the Colorado River.

Construction of the first two sections is expected to begin in December. The developer, Germany-based Solar Millennium AG, recently reported delays in closing the financing for the first two phases of the project. The developer is seeking a loan guarantee of about $1.9 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The solar project is the sixth to be approved for public land in the Southwestern deserts in recent weeks by the Interior Department, and the fifth in California. Of about 1,000 operating conventional power plants in California, only 13 exceed the Blythe project’s rated peak production capacity, a measure of the maximum electric power a plant could potentially generate at a particular point in time.

“The Blythe Solar Power Project is a major milestone in our nation’s renewable energy economy and shows that the United States intends to compete and lead in the technologies of the future,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in signing the Record of Decision. “This project shows in a real way how harnessing our own renewable resources can create good jobs here at home.”

The decision authorizes the federal Bureau of Land Management to offer Solar Millennium a right-of-way grant to use slightly more than 7,000 acres of public lands for 30 years if all rents and other conditions are met.

“With the approval of the Blythe project, the solar projects approved on BLM public lands in the last few weeks have the potential to generate up to 2,800 megawatts of renewable energy. That’s enough to power up to 2 million homes,” said bureau Director Robert V. Abbey. “We have truly arrived at America’s new energy frontier.”

Several large solar thermal power projects in Southern California are still awaiting final state or federal approval, and two major solar photovoltaic power plants are nearing final county decisions in Central California. Many smaller projects are also in various stages of development or under construction.

Altogether, the projects represent a sudden and dramatic shift in the planned mix of electricity to be fed to homes and businesses throughout the state. In addition to the 968-megawatt Blythe project, a 709-megawatt solar complex has been approved in Imperial County east of San Diego, and a 663.5-megawatt solar project has been approved for the Mojave Desert east of Barstow.

The rapid-fire approval of massive solar projects has raised some alarms among people concerned about the effects on the sensitive desert ecology and its many rare plants and animals. State and federal officials are requiring that Solar Millennium provide funding to set aside more than 8,000 acres of habitat for the desert tortoise, western burrowing owl, bighorn sheep and Mojave fringe-toed lizard to mitigate the Blythe project’s impacts.

The Blythe project, to be built about 8 miles west of the city and 2 to 3 miles north of Interstate 10, will make electricity with a solar technology that has been used at a handful of smaller solar plants for more than 20 years in California. Broad fields of parabolic mirrors will focus intense sunlight on tubes filled with a heat-transfer fluid, raising its temperature to 750 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

The super-heated fluid is used to turn water into steam, which is forced under pressure into turbine-generators to produce electricity. Water use in this type of plant can be extensive, not primarily for generating steam, but for cooling the equipment. The Blythe plant will use a dry-cooling technique rather than wet cooling, dramatically reducing its water consumption. Dry cooling also reduces a solar thermal power plant’s efficiency.

Although the close of financing has been delayed, Solar Millennium has said it will proceed.

In an Oct. 13 news release, the company said, “Regardless of the point at which the financing is concluded, Solar Millennium AG currently plans to begin construction on the Blythe 1 and 2 solar-thermal power plants as early as December. This is intended to ensure cash grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 from President Barack Obama. Solar Millennium has sufficient resources to finance the first construction measures planned, largely supported by the positive operating cash flow expected in the current fiscal year.”

Thomas Mayer, spokesman for the executive board of Solar Millennium, said: "At the end of the fiscal year, we will have reached two of three milestones at the world’s largest solar site: the approval by the California Energy Commission and the construction permit by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The third challenge, the conclusion of financing, will be postponed to the next fiscal year due to external factors, namely procedural changes in the approval process of the Loan Guarantee Program. This delay will have a negative impact on the current annual result, but not on the realization of the power plants and therefore not on the long-term success of the Solar Millennium Group."

Solar Millennium has another major solar power plant complex in the California desert under development, called the Panel Solar Power Project. It has been working on this 500-megawatt plan jointly with Chevron Energy Solutions, according to the California Energy Commission.

“The four Blythe power plants and the two Palen power plants together are expected to supply roughly 3,300 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually,” the company said. “The overall capacity of the planned solar power plants thus exceeds that of a nuclear power plant or a modern large-scale coal-fired power plant.”

Mr. Salazar emphasized the unusually high level of cooperation between California agencies and the Interior Department for this project and the others pending.

“Together, we developed the ‘fast track’ process that demonstrates how separate government processes can be coordinated without cutting corners or skipping any environmental checks and balances in the process,” he said. “I commend Governor Schwarzenegger and the people of California for their foresight and partnership.”