Clean Power

Published on December 20th, 2013 | by Joshua S Hill


California Blocks Another Concentrated Solar Power Project

December 20th, 2013 by  

The Californian Energy Commission announced Monday that it would be blocking the construction of Brightsource’s proposed 500 MW Palen Solar Electric Generating System’s project, a concentrated solar power (CSP) project, the fourth such project Brightsource has attempted to construct, of which only the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project has been developed.

The announcement came in a dual decision, which saw the Commission approve the Blythe Solar Power Project but deny the Palen project. According to the committee dealing with the proposed Palen project, it was denied because of “significant unmitigable impacts to cultural and visual resources [and] … biological resources due to the risk of solar flux on avian species.”

The Palen proposal was an attempt to change the technology from the existing parabolic trough technology which was approved in December of 2010 to CSP technology, which would have seen two 250 MW solar towers installed.

As of now, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project is the only similar power plant using the power tower technology that has been certified by the California Energy Commission and built,” the Commission ruled (PDF). “To date, ISEGS has not operated at full capacity, but has already resulted in a number of bird deaths,” adding that Brightsource hasn’t provided the Commission with sufficient records to estimate the number of birds harmed or killed as a result of the Ivanpah project.

Brightsource do not believe they have the financial capacity to adhere to either of the Commission’s rulings — that the site be converted back to a parabolic trough technology or a photovoltaic solar farm — given the current conditions surrounding its financing of the project.

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  • David Martin

    I used to think CSP was a great idea until I read some of Chris Clarke’s writing at KCET’s ReWire program (1). Efficiency would be a much better use of that investment money, or distributed solar — either rooftop pv or thermal for hot water.

    When I think of CSP solar at Ivanpah which is so close to the bright unnecessary lights of Las Vegas, I don’t see the sense in it. I know CA has their own ISO so power from Ivanpah might not be used in NV, but still…

    1. He’s written more detailed stuff than this summary, but it’s the reference I came up with, without much time to search. Check out story #3.

    • Bob_Wallace

      CSP is an interesting idea. It offers the ability to store the collected energy for powering non-sunny, non-windy hours.

      How that electricity is used is a different issue.

  • fugufush

    Freeways kill MILLIONS of critters per year and are part of a system that is pollutes the environment and is energy NEGATIVE. These solar plants produce tons of clean energy in the desert and kill a couple birds so now so called “environmentalists” block their construction? Total illogical absurdity.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I sincerely doubt most of those “environmentalists” are actually environmentalists.

      Engage them in conversation for a while and some turn out to be right-wingers and supporters of the coal and nuclear industries. Some turn out to be tinfoil hat paranoids. Some turn out to be NIMBYs.

      • Doug Cutler

        Bob, do you know if its really the bird death issue holding these projects up or is it the plummeting cost of PV and other factors? Otherwise, wouldn’t it be a relatively easy thing to chase off soaring birds with a few of those small helicopter drones patrolling the perimeter? Or just lock a couple of hot shot design engineers in a room with some avian biologists. It can’t be that hard to outsmart a few birds.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Every project is going to have an environmental impact study. For something like a wind farm potential bird/bat problems are going to be an issue that will be addressed.

          With the exception of a couple wind farms bird kills is a very minor issue. Someone recently posted that we could save as many birds as all turbines combine kill over a year by taking a single house cat off the street.

          That might be a slight exaggeration. Two cats should be enough.

          The problem for wind farms has been the way Congress structured the subsidy program. They’ve legislated only one year at a time which means that farms had to be started up and completed in less than 12 months in order to qualify for subsidies. That’s made for a huge rush to complete by the end of the year and a dead first quarter while awaiting legislation and then starting up.

          With the new subsidy legislation that problem has been eliminated. As long as a project is at least 5% underway by the end of the calendar year it will qualify. Apparently just ordering the turbines is enough to qualify.

          Solar will likely take some business away from wind for a while. We need new transmission lines for wind, solar needs none. Solar produces during peak hours while onshore wind tends to produce more at night. Solar can be installed on the end-user level making it easier to compete (retail prices).

          That’s not to say that wind is dead. I expect we’ll accelerate installations because wind has become so inexpensive and so many coal plants are closing. If we see a few more nuclear plants go bankrupt that will also increase demand for offpeak power and bring more wind on line.

          • Doug Cutler

            So are you giving the edge to solar PV with grid storage vs CSP since the later would also need transmission lines?

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, I’m not dialing in that fine.

            Most CSP is going to be built close to existing transmission, I would think. We’ve got lines that used to bring coal-electricity from outside of Ca to the west coast. Makes sense to reuse those lines for other purposes.

            I don’t know if CSP with storage will have any advantages over PV with storage. We’ll have to see how that works out. CSP does have the advantage that gas can be used to run the turbines which means that those plants can provide deep backup.

            That said, as the installed price in the US gets closer to German/UK/Australian prices of about $2/watt for rooftop I think it will difficult to get financing for large scale CSP.

            We’re years away from needing large scale storage and there are promising battery technologies working their way out of the lab that could take the market away from CSP with storage.

  • jose nieves

    I think that they can still go ahead and build the solar farm using photovoltaic panels. `probably they might be able to produce at least 300 MW in the same land area.

  • Marion Meads

    So the title implies that other Concentrated Solar Power projects were blocked. What were they?

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