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Abengoa Solar to Supply PG&E From 250 MW in Mojave Desert

[social_buttons] A contract has just been signed to deliver 600 gigawatthours a year of solar power between the US division of Spain’s giant Abengoa, and PG&E in California. Abengoa Solar hopes to succeed where BrightSource recently failed to overcome local NIMBY issues and Senator Feinstein, in its plan to site a 250 MW solar thermal plant in the made-for-solar Mojave Desert.

Things do look more hopeful for this utility-scale solar thermal project.

For one thing; Scott Frier, the COO of Abengoa Solar told me that has been directly involved in all 10 of the existing large scale solar power plants ever completed in the United States. He has also lived 16 miles from the Mojave site for 25 years and raised his family there, so he knows the neighborhood. This project is literally in his backyard.

I asked if he was worried about NIMBY issues, given the BrightSource experience. Scott did not seem worried. They have located the site on an already disturbed footprint precisely in order to minimize impacts to native habitat.  “It is well out of the sensitive areas that have drawn some of the objections we have seen over the last several months from Senator Feinstein and others concerned with responsible development,” Scott said.

In addition, a major existing transmission corridor borders the site.

So, “while it’s true that the overall transmission system is in need of an upgrade”, transmission will not be an issue. “I know that there are always challenges to every project. I can assure you we have a great team of folks that I have worked with for a great many years, and we are indeed ready – and I am optimistic” he said.

The solar thermal plant would be on 1,765 acres of private land – that was alfalfa farmland in the 19th century, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, that now lies fallow. It would use much less water than was used for farming.

Starting in 2013; an annual crop of 600 gigawatthours of pure sunshine power will be harvested year after year, just in time for PG&E’s renewable portfolio mandate deadline. That’s if all goes well at the public meeting in December. Currently the utility has wind, solar, geothermal and biomass contracts signed for 20% of expected demand in 2013 but the lag in permits and approvals means that renewable energy comprises only 14% of what currently powers California.

Abengoa uses parabolic mirrors that are arranged in long troughs and track the sun’s movement continually during the day, concentrating the solar radiation onto a heat-absorbing pipe at the focal point of the mirrors. A heat transfer fluid circulating inside the pipe reaches temperatures of more than 700 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat is then used to generate steam that drives a conventional steam turbine.

Abangoa Solar employs more than 80 people in the US; in engineering, research and development, manufacturing, project development, and support in a 50,000 square feet office and manufacturing space in Lakewood, Colorado, with more in Arizona and California. The company operates in more than 70 countries and was selected by the Desertec project to supply Europe with solar power from the Sahara.

Image: Abengoa

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