Solar Power, the Economy and the Environment Win Again in California

On Thursday November 10, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced its approval of PG&E’s contract with Abengoa’s Mojave Concentrated Solar Power Project in the California Desert. The Concentrated Solar Energy Project will provide significant environmental benefits by contributing 250 MW to the state’s ambitious 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard and will also help the State meet its greenhouse gas objectives under Assembly Bill 32.

The project uses concentrated solar thermal technology- which can have lower production variability and produce more power at peak-consumption hours than some other renewable technologies. CPUC President Peevey noted in his remarks that, “The Mojave Solar project is highly viable and the solar thermal facility will enhance the resource diversity of PG&E’s energy portfolio.”

In addition, the Mojave Solar project also represents the type of utility scale solar project that NRDC encourages developers to pursue and the CPUC to approve by virtue of being built on lands with low natural resource values. The Project conforms very well to solar project siting criteria developed several years ago by numerous environmental organizations, including NRDC. It’s located on private land with very low ecological values and is in the vicinity of existing road access and other developments.

The California Energy Commission’s September 8, 2010 Decision approving the Project agrees, concluding that “overall, the proposed project area is composed of degraded habitat, which is of marginal suitability for special-status species and does not support a diverse assemblage of native plants and wildlife.”

The project has the support of conservation groups working in California. It demonstrates that large-scale solar energy projects can be planned in a way that protects plants, wildlife and other desert resources – in other words it’s a great example of a project that’s smart from the start. The Project achieves the balance between meeting our clean energy needs and protecting our sensitive desert ecosystems – two critical goals for California and for the country.

Well considered siting has commercial benefits, too, since it makes the permitting process more straightforward and certain. CPUC President Peevey and Commissioner Ferron highlighted the benefits to Californians that good project siting and planning provide, Commissioner Ferron noted, “With this project we have very high viability. The technology is tried and true, the financing is all wrapped up with the U.S. Department of Energy Loan Guarantee, and we’re told that the hard hats are on and the bulldozers are ready to roll. Therefore, we can have high confidence that this project will get built.”

So while we were not privy to the confidential contract details including the price, NRDC applauds the Commission for moving forward with a well planned solar project and look forward to its contribution to California’s climate goals and clean energy economy.

Noah Long, Energy Program Attorney, San Francisco,