CEC to begin review of 750 MW Rio Mesa concentrating solar thermal power project

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has begun a review of a proposed 750 MW concentrating solar power (CSP) project in Riverside County, California, consisting of three 250 MW plants using solar power tower designs.

The CEC voted on December 14th, 2011 that developer BrightSource Energy Inc. (Oakland, California, U.S.) had provided sufficient information in the application for the Rio Mesa Solar Electric Generating Facility to begin the review process. If approved, construction is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2013 and finish in the second quarter of 2016.

As the lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act, the CEC will examine public health and safety, environmental impacts and engineering aspects of the proposed solar thermal project, as well as all related facilities including transmission lines.

As the solar thermal project is located partially on public land, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will require an environmental impact statement and approval for a right-of-way grant. This also makes the project more vulnerable to lawsuits from environmental groups and other organizations.

The plants will utilize solar power tower designs, whereby a field of mirrors (heliostats) reflects light onto a central receiver, to heat a fluid which drives a turbine to generate electricity. Each plant will comprise roughly 85,000 heliostats, and will feature towers 230 meters tall.

The concentrating solar thermal power project will be located 21 kilometers southwest of Blythe, California, and will occupy 23 square kilometers of land. Capital construction costs for the project are estimated at USD 3 billion, and the project is expected to employ an average of 1,040 workers per month during the 16-month construction period.

If approved, the Rio Mesa project will join nine large concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) projects planned for Southern California that the CEC approved in the final months of 2011. BrightSource’s 370 MW Ivanpah project was the first of these projects to begin construction and will likely be the first to be completed, in 2012 at the earliest. Several of these projects have been converted to solar photovoltaic (PV) technology due to the falling costs for PV equipment.