SolarReserve Receives Final Licensing Decision for 150-Megawatt Rice Concentrating Solar Power in California

SolarReserve, a U.S. developer of utility-scale concentrated solar energy projects, has received a final decision from the California Energy Commission (CEC) for construction and operation of the Rice Concentrating Solar Power Project. This approval, the key state-level permit for the 150-megawatt solar power tower project, was achieved in the record time of less than 13 months from the initial application, a testimony to the state’s commitment to solar energy and other renewable energy solutions in California.

Located on previously-disturbed, private land 30 miles northwest of Blythe in eastern Riverside County, SolarReserve’s Rice Solar Energy Project will supply approximately 450,000 megawatt hours annually of zero-emission electricity to Californians—enough to power up to 68,000 homes during peak electricity periods—utilizing its innovative energy storage capabilities.

The solar power tower project, which has a 25-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for the sale of the electricity generated by the project, is expected to employ nearly 500 skilled workers during construction and generate an estimated 5,300 direct and induced jobs for the region. In addition, the project has an annual operating budget estimated at more than $5.0 million, much of it expected to be spent locally, and the project is forecasted to generate $48 million in tax revenues for the state over the first 10 years of operation.

“Today is a bright day for California,” said California Energy Commission Chairman Karen Douglas. “By approving the Rice Solar Energy Project, California continues to demonstrate its leadership and commitment to support clean, renewable energy. These solar concentrated solar energy projects will reinvigorate our economy and bring jobs to hard-hit communities. As we look to harness more renewable sources of energy by 2020, California leads the nation by embracing the power of the sun.”

Regarding today’s favorable announcement, SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith said, "We are extremely pleased that the CEC has authorized us to move forward on our Rice Solar Energy Project, and recognize the commitment from the state to ensure reliable, clean energy for all Californians. SolarReserve is a California-based company with American technology that was developed here in the state, so it’s even more gratifying to be building this project in California, creating significant economic benefits and new jobs for the region.”

The California Energy Commission approved 650 megawatts of solar power in Southern California yesterday. The Palen Solar Power Project and the Rice Solar Energy Project, both in Riverside County, are the eighth and ninth solar thermal power plants that the Energy Commission has licensed in the past four months. Since late August, the Commission has licensed more than 4,100 megawatts of renewable solar power in the California desert.

The nine concentrated solar energy projects represent exactly 4,142.5 megawatts and would provide more than 8,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 operational jobs. One megawatt is equivalent to powering 750 single family homes, the Commission said. Commission chairman Karen Douglas said: “By approving these projects, California continues to demonstrate its leadership and commitment to support clean, renewable energy.

In two separate unanimous votes, the Energy Commission adopted the presiding member’s proposed decisions that recommended licensing the 500-MW Palen project and the 150-MW Rice project. In order to qualify for federal stimulus funds, the projects needed to be approved by the Energy Commission before December 31, 2010.

During the construction of the Palen project, a peak workforce of 1,145 will be required, with another 134 jobs when the plant is in operation. With the Rice project, a peak workforce of 438 will be needed during construction, with another 47 jobs when the plant is operating. Both projects still require decisions from the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which approves the use of federal public lands, before they can proceed. The Rice project also requires approval from the Western Area Power Administration. Those approvals are scheduled to be made in 2011.

Palen Solar I, LLC, a subsidiary of Solar Millennium, LLC, is the applicant for the Palen project. Solar Millennium is a subsidiary of Solar Trust of America, LLC. The project would be located halfway between the cities of Indio and Blythe in eastern Riverside County. A right-of-way grant is being sought for approximately 5,200 acres of land managed by the BLM. Originally, construction and operation of the 500-MW project would have been 2,970 acres.

Solar Millennium has two alternatives for the Palen project to significantly reduce impacts on the Mojave fringe-toed lizard, sand dune habitat, and sand transport corridor. One alternative disturbs 4,365 acres, while the other alternative would take up about 4,330 acres. The project will use concentrating solar trough thermal electric generating technology, with two adjacent and independent units of 250 megawatts each for a total capacity of 500 megawatts.

The proposed project would use parabolic trough technology where parabolic mirrors are used to heat a transfer fluid which is then used to generate steam. Electricity is produced from the steam expanding through steam turbine generators. The Rice Solar Energy Project is being proposed by Rice Solar Energy, LLC, a subsidiary of SolarReserve, LLC. The facility will be located about 40 miles northwest of Blythe in eastern Riverside County.

The project will be on 1,387 acres of a 2,560-acre parcel of private land located immediately south of State Route 62. A 161-kilovolt generation tie line and substation would be located partly on BLM land.

SolarReserve is planning a concentrating solar thermal power facility with a central receiver tower, sun-tracking heliostat field and an integrated thermal storage system using molten salt as the heat transfer and storage medium. A large field of mirrors or heliostats concentrates and focuses the sun’s energy onto a central receiver.

The project uses thermal energy storage that allows solar energy to be captured throughout the day and retained in a molten salt heat transfer fluid.

When electricity is generated, the hot liquid salt is routed to heat exchangers to heat water and produce steam. The steam is used to generate electricity in a conventional steam turbine cycle.

Even with mitigation measures, the Commission said the Rice Solar plant could have direct and cumulative environmental impacts in the area of visual resources. However, it said the benefits of the project would outweigh, and justify a legal override of, those impacts.

Utilizing an advanced molten salt system technology under exclusive worldwide license to SolarReserve from Pratt Whitney & Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies Corporation, the Rice Solar Energy Project has the ability to collect and store enough thermal energy each morning to operate at full power all afternoon and for up to eight hours after sunset. The game-changing technology featuring inherent energy storage affords utilities with a generator that performs with the reliability and dispatchability of a conventional power generator without harmful emissions that are associated with burning coal, natural gas and oil.

The final step in the approval process involves receiving National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), which SolarReserve hopes to receive by the end of the first quarter of 2011. SolarReserve has released the manufacturing of some long-lead equipment items already and anticipates concluding financing arrangements by mid-2011 in order to begin full on-site construction in the third quarter of 2011.

SolarReserve, LLC – headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif. – is a solar energy project development company developing large-scale solar energy projects worldwide. It holds the exclusive worldwide license to the molten salt, solar power tower technology developed by United Technologies Corporation. Since its formation in late 2007, SolarReserve’s team of power project professionals have assembled a concentrated solar power development portfolio of more than 25 projects featuring its licensed solar power technology with potential output of more than 3,000 megawatts in the United States and Europe; with early stage activities in other international markets.

SolarReserve is also developing 1,100 megawatts of photovoltaic projects across the Western United States, and is actively acquiring new sites to add to the pipeline. SolarReserve’s experienced management team has previously developed and financed more than $15 billion in renewable and conventional energy projects in more than a dozen countries around the world.

SolarReserve’s molten salt, concentrating solar power tower technology was successfully demonstrated in California under a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored pilot project in the late 1990s. The 10-megawatt pilot facility utilized a molten salt receiver designed, engineered and assembled by Rocketdyne, now a division of United Technologies Corporation.