California finds environmental impacts to birds from Hidden Hills CSP project

The Hidden Hills solar thermal power system will use BrightSource’s proven solar tower technology to produce clean, reliable solar electricity to more than 178,000 homes. Located in Inyo County, California, the two-unit power system will be built on approx. 3,280 acres and will create construction jobs for 2,300 workers.

BrightSource’s solar plants avoid millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the plant’s life. A BrightSource plant will have 85% less air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOX) and sulfur oxides (SOX), than a natural gas-fired power plant.

Low Water Use: BrightSource’s solar tower technology uses up to 95% less water than competing wet cooled solar thermal plants by employing a dry-cooling process, which uses air instead of water to condense steam. The steam production cycle is a closedloop system, with all water recycled back into the system, while general conservation measures help to further reduce water usage. The water consumed on the project is for cleaning the mirrors, much like a PV plant of similar size.

Limited Impact on the Land: Unlike competing technologies, which require the majority of a project site be fully graded, BrightSource solar tower plants retain the majority of the project site’s natural landscape. Instead of extensive grading and concrete foundations, BrightSource’s heliostat pylons are inserted directly in the ground allowing vegetation to co-exist within the solar field below the mirrors. The limited grading and concrete foundations allow the land to retain its natural land contours and features.

With its taller towers and optimized solar field design, BrightSource’s solar tower technology uses 25% less land than competing solar technologies, including photovoltaic and trough solar.

California law requires the CEC to review the environmental impacts of such projects, to standards considered stricter than those imposed by federal law.

Among the concerns cited are impacts to birds, Native American sites and a historic trail, and impacts to visual resources. While in some of these areas, such as cultural resources, the project complies with existing laws and regulations, staff also found that impacts could not be fully mitigated.

A California Energy Commission (CEC) assessment observes environmental impacts from BrightSource Energy Inc.’s (Oakland, California, US) Hidden Hills concentrating solar power (CSP) project, which could potentially stop project approval.

The CEC’s final staff assessment (FSA), released on December 21st, 2012, found impacts in several areas, including non-compliance with Inyo County land use regulations. While the document is not a final decision, the CEC will have to adopt override findings if the project is approved.

“In the areas of Biological Resources, Cultural Resources, and Visual Resources, staff concludes that even with implementation of all feasible mitigation measures, impacts on certain environmental resources would remain significant and unavoidable,” notes the FSA.

Brightsource states that it is looking forward to the formal evidentiary hearings, upon which the CEC will base its final decisions, and will continue to work closely with the CEC during ongoing evaluation of the project.

The 500 MW project consists of two 250 MW solar power tower CSP plants, with 85,000 heliostats each, located on private land in Inyo County near the California-Nevada border.

The Hidden Hills project would occupy 13.3 square kilometers, including a common area and temporary parking area and take 29 months to build, at a capital cost of USD 2.2 billion.

BrightSource planning a third CSP project in Clark County, Nevada

California law requires study of cumulative potential impacts of projects, listing the project as one of eight planned utility-scale CSP and solar photovoltaic (PV) projects in the Hidden Hills region.

This includes another 750 MW CSP project which BrightSource has proposed for Clark County, Nevada. The company is currently building the world’s largest CSP project, the 370 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, in California’s neighboring San Bernardino County.