CEC releases FSA for 500 MW Palen Concentrating Solar Power project

The final staff assessment (FSA) published September 10 concluded that the proposed 500-megawatt (MW) solar thermal power tower project would have significant environmental impacts in the area of visual resources even with the implementation of staff’s recommended mitigation measures. The project would also not comply with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards (LORS) in the area of visual resources.

Commission staff also found that it is uncertain that recommended measures for avian species will mitigate the potential impacts to less than significant in the area of biological resources, according to the FSA.

The FSA is being published in three parts. The cultural resources section, the second part, is scheduled to be published the week of September 16.

The third part will be the air quality/greenhouse gases section. That is expected to be filed 30 days after the Commission receives the preliminary determination of compliance from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The preliminary determination of compliance describes how the project would comply with applicable air quality regulatory requirements, and proposes permit conditions to ensure compliance.

The FSA is not a committee document or a proposed decision on the project. The document represents the Commission staff’s independent assessment of the project’s potential impacts on the environment, public health and safety, and compliance with all LORS. The FSA provides the detailed environmental impact assessment required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

The document will serve as Commission staff’s testimony at evidentiary hearings that will be held by a committee of two commissioners who are reviewing the proposed project. The committee will issue a proposed decision based on evidence presented at the hearings. The proposed decision will be presented to the full Commission for a final decision on the project.

In December 2010, the Commission approved the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project that uses parabolic trough technology. In December 2012, the new project owner filed an amendment with the Commission requesting to change the technology from parabolic trough to solar power tower.

The applicant for the amended project, now known as the Palen Solar Electric Generating System, is Palen Solar Holdings, LLC, a joint venture of BrightSource Energy, Inc. and Abengoa.

The proposed project consists of two 250-MW solar plants. Each would have about 85,000 heliostats for a total of 170,000 heliostats. Heliostats are elevated mirrors used to focus the sun’s rays on a solar receiver that produces steam to generate electricity. The solar receiver would be located atop a 750-foot-tall power tower near the center of each solar field.

The project is located about 10 miles east of Desert Center, halfway between Indio and Blythe, in eastern Riverside County. It is located on 3,794 acres of public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is separately reviewing the project.

If the Commission approves the Palen amendment, construction is expected to last 33 months. The project would average 998 workers during construction with a peak of 2,311. Up to 100 workers will be needed when the project is operational, according to the project owner. The project owner has provided an estimated capital cost for construction of the project as $2 billion.

The FSA for the Palen amendment is available here.

The California Energy Commission is the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency. Created by the Legislature in 1974 and located in Sacramento, six basic responsibilities guide the Energy Commission as it sets state energy policy: forecasting future energy needs; licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger; promoting energy efficiency and conservation by setting the state’s appliance and building efficiency standards; supporting public interest energy research that advances energy science and technology through research, development, and demonstration programs; developing renewable energy resources and alternative renewable energy technologies for buildings, industry and transportation; planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies.