BrightSource Eyes Twin Concentrated Solar Power Plants In Desert

BrightSource Energy, Inc., a leading concentrated solar thermal technology company, has filed an Application for Certification (AFC) with the California Energy Commission for the development of two 250 megawatt (nominal) concentrating solar power plants (500 megawatts combined) in California’s Inyo County.

If approved, the Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System (SEGS) will use BrightSource’s next-generation plant design. This design takes advantage of economies of scale, further driving down the cost of energy while significantly reducing the project’s land use footprint. For utility-scale solar projects of similar capacity, the new configuration reduces land use by 33% or more compared to a typical photovoltaic (PV) farm and parabolic trough solar thermal plant.

“The Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System project underscores BrightSource’s commitment to developing environmentally responsible projects that deliver cost-effective and reliable clean energy at scale,” said John Woolard, President and CEO, BrightSource Energy, Inc. “We’re thrilled to take this critical step forward and to support PG&E’s continued commitment to delivering on our state’s clean energy goals.”

The proposed project site is located on 3,280 acres of privately-owned land in Inyo County, California, adjacent to the California / Nevada border. The site is located approximately 18 miles south of Pahrump, NV, and 45 miles west of Las Vegas, NV.

BrightSource will construct two separate 250 megawatt (nominal) concentrating solar thermal power plants, each with its own solar field and solar power tower. When complete, the two plants are expected to produce enough electricity to power 178,000 homes and avoid more than 500,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The proposed site is privately-owned and well-suited for a concentrated solar thermal power plant. It has excellent solar resources and access to existing, nearby high-voltage transmission lines. The land is predominately flat, and dry, and sparsely vegetated. Until recently, there were plans for a housing subdivision. The property has also been used in the past as an orchard.

The Hidden Hills SEGS project will create more than 1,000 construction jobs at the peak of construction and approximately 120 operations and maintenance jobs. Over the plant’s 25-year life, construction wages are expected to reach nearly $160 million, with total employee earnings estimated at nearly $390 million.

“The economic benefits that will be created by the Hidden Hills SEGS are significant, especially in the context of the economic challenges the region continues to face,” said Jeremy Aguero, Principal Analyst for Applied Analysis, a business advisory services firm that conducted an analysis of the economic and fiscal impacts of the Hidden Hills SEGS. “After doing a detailed analysis of the HHSEGS, we expect the project to directly generate nearly 2,900 jobs related to onsite construction and the fabrication of materials over the two-year construction period, and contribute over $265 million in local and state taxes over the plant’s lifetime. These new jobs and extra tax revenue will likely have a noticeable impact on the surrounding communities.”

The Hidden Hills SEGS will utilize BrightSource Energy’s proprietary LPT solar thermal energy system. The LPT system generates power the same way as traditional power plants – by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. However, instead of using fossil fuels or nuclear power to create the steam, BrightSource uses the sun’s energy. At the heart of the LPT system is a state-of-the-art solar field design, optimization software and a control system that allow for the creation of high temperature steam. The steam can then be integrated with conventional power plant components to produce predictable, reliable and cost-competitive clean energy.

BrightSource’s LPT system is designed to minimize impacts on the natural environment. The new plant design at Hidden Hills SEGS will feature a taller tower that allows for greater concentration of heliostats, significantly reducing the amount of land required to produce energy. Additionally, BrightSource will place mirrors on individual poles that are placed directly into the ground, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and avoid areas of sensitive vegetation. This design also allows for vegetation to co-exist within the solar field and avoids the extensive land grading and concrete pads associated with other solar technology system designs.

In order to conserve precious desert water, the Hidden Hills project will employ an air-cooling system to convert the steam back into water in a closed-loop cycle. By using air-cooling, the project will use only 140 acre feet of water per year, less than ten percent of the total amount of water used in competing solar thermal technologies with wet-cooling.

Hidden Hills SEGS will provide power to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) pursuant to two power purchase agreements approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2010. BrightSource Energy is currently fulfilling its 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of power contracts with Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric Company, California’s two largest utilities. In addition, the company manages an approximately 110,000 acre development site portfolio in California and the U.S. Southwest that has the potential to accommodate approximately 11 GW of installed capacity.

BrightSource is currently constructing its 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert. When construction is complete in 2013, Ivanpah will nearly double the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the U.S. today.