BrightSource got a boost from the Department of Energy this week with a loan guarantee of $1.37 billion to help build three concentrated solar thermal power plants producing 400 MW of clean solar power in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California.
However, it is predicated upon BrightSource meeting the environmental requirements before closing on the loan, and it is precisely those environmental requirements that have bogged it down. The desert tortoise has held up approval so far. The Bureau of Land Management is leading a federal review of the project with support from DOE.
Early this year, after working with environmental groups, Senator Feinstein of California stepped in with clarification on what is and is not an environmentally sensitive area, creating maps to make the approval process easier and more predictable, showing where solar plants are likely to encounter resistance – and where it is safe to plan one.
Then BrightSource filed a proposal on February 11 to shrink the footprint of the Ivanpah Solar Complex, reducing its environmental impact in response to public comments about the project.
The proposed changes would reduce the footprint of the third Ivanpah plant by 23% and trim the overall project by about 12%, while avoiding the area identified by environmental groups as posing the greatest concern. The new plans call for dropping the number of solar towers in the third Ivanpah plant from 5 to 1, which brings the overall total number of towers in the power plant to 3. It also cuts the number of heliostats by about 40,000. If approved, these changes would lower the site’s total gross capacity from 440 MW to 392 MW.
If this can be approved, Ivanpah Solar Complex would nearly double existing generation capacity of CSP facilities in the United States, and would become the world’s largest operational concentrated solar thermal power complex.
The technology uses thousands of flat mirrors, or “heliostats,” to concentrate the sun’s heat onto a receiver mounted at the top of a tower. Water pumped to the receiver is boiled into steam, which drives a turbine to produce electricity. Solar power towers allow the capture of a greater percentage of solar energy than other solar thermal technologies, and includes storage at night.
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