BrightSource Energy Files Application for Certification for Rio Mesa Concentrating Solar Thermal Plant

BrightSource Energy, Inc., a leading solar thermal technology company, has filed an Application for Certification (AFC) with the California Energy Commission to develop three 250 megawatt (nominal) solar power plants (750 megawatts combined) in California’s Riverside County. The plants, which will be located primarily on land owned by the Metropolitan Water District, will collectively generate enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes.

"The Rio Mesa project will create thousands of jobs, and contribute hundreds of millions in economic benefits for Riverside County and the State of California, all while producing clean and reliable electricity for 300,000 California homes," said Stephen Wiley, Senior Vice President of U.S. Project Development, BrightSource Energy, Inc. "This project will showcase BrightSource’s world-class solar thermal technology, and reflects our continued commitment to setting the bar for environmentally responsible solar power plant development."

BrightSource will develop three separate 250 megawatt (nominal) solar thermal power plants, each with its own solar field and solar power tower. When complete, the three plants will produce enough clean electricity to avoid more than 750,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. It will set a new solar industry record in land efficiency, reducing the quantity of land needed to produce solar power by utilizing a higher tower and increased mirror density, and will deploy BrightSource’s dry-cooling and water recycling system.

Rio Mesa Location

The proposed Rio Mesa site is located in unincorporated Riverside County approximately 13 miles southwest of Blythe, CA, on 5,750 acres, most of which is owned by the Metropolitan Water District and previously disturbed. The remainder of the land is public and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The project will require the approval of the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The Rio Mesa site is an outstanding location for a solar thermal power plant with excellent solar resources and access to existing, nearby high-voltage transmission lines. The area is sparsely populated and surrounded by desert and agricultural parcels. The Metropolitan Water District had specifically designated the land for renewable energy development. During WWII, the Rio Mesa site was used as military training grounds and in the 1970’s, the site was slated for what was to be the SunDesert Nuclear Power Plant.

Rio Mesa Economic Benefits

The Rio Mesa project will create approximately 2,500 construction jobs at the peak of construction and approximately 150 operations and maintenance jobs. Construction wages are expected to reach $660 million, and operation and maintenance employee wages are estimated at an additional $410 million over the plant’s first 25 years.

The jobs and economic benefits that will be created by the Rio Mesa project come at a time when parts of the region are facing unemployment of nearly 30%. In addition to direct employment benefits, construction of the Rio Mesa project is projected to inject over $800 million into the local economy through local construction expenditures and local spending by construction workers. The project is expected to contribute approximately $120 million in sales and use tax during the three year construction period and generate approximately $7 million per year in property taxes for a combined total of approximately $300 million in local and state taxes over the plant’s 25 year life.

"The Rio Mesa project will benefit the City of Blythe by creating new, good-paying jobs and providing a boost in our local economy," said Joey DeConinck, Mayor of Blythe. "A significant portion of the construction workers will be living and shopping in Blythe, and many of the construction materials and services for the project will be purchased locally. This project represents a huge economic opportunity for the City and we are looking forward to having the Rio Mesa solar facility as a neighbor and welcome all the workers and employees to the Blythe community."

LPT: Efficient, Environmentally-Responsible Solar Technology

The Rio Mesa plants 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 is then integrated with conventional power plant turbines to produce predictable, reliable and cost-competitive clean energy.

BrightSource’s LPT system is designed to minimize the impact on the natural environment. The plant design at Rio Mesa will feature a 750-foot tall tower that allows for a high concentration of heliostats. This design significantly reduces the amount of land required to produce energy – up to 33% less than a typical photovoltaic (PV) farm and parabolic trough solar thermal plant. Additionally, BrightSource places mirrors on individual poles placed directly into the ground without concrete foundations, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land, to retain native vegetation under the mirrors, and to avoid areas of sensitive vegetation. This design also avoids the extensive land grading and concrete pads associated with other solar technology system designs.

In order to conserve precious desert water, the solar plants 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 260 acre feet of water per year, more than 90 percent less than the total amount of water used in competing solar thermal technologies with wet-cooling.

BrightSource Energy is currently fulfilling its 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of power contracts with Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Company, California’s two largest utilities. In addition, the company manages an approximately 100,000 acre development site portfolio in California and the U.S. Southwest that has the potential to accommodate approximately 10 GW of installed capacity.

By José Santamarta,