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August 18, 2010

California's Ivanpah, a Major Solar Project, Moves Forward

Photo of a tower surrounded by reflecting solar mirrors.

The Ivanpah solar project will rely on solar power tower technology, using a field of flat mirrors to concentrate the sunlight on a receiver at the top of a central tower.
Credit: BrightSource Energy

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on August 12 approved a power purchase agreement for the utility-scale Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. CPUC granted a 20-year contract between Southern California Edison Company and Ivanpah operator BrightSource Energy, Inc. for 117 megawatts (MW) of planned production from the three-tower, concentrating solar power (CSP) complex in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California. The contract calls for electricity to begin flowing on September 30, 2013. The site's three plants will feature the company's proprietary solar power tower technology, which employs thousands of flat mirrors to concentrate the sunlight on a central tower-mounted receiver. 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 do other solar thermal technologies. Ultimately, the project is designed to generate approximately 400 MW of electricity, an output that would nearly double the existing generation capacity of CSP facilities in the United States. See the CPUC ruling.

Earlier in the month, the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on the project, which would be sited on about 4,000 acres of public land proposed public land in San Bernardino County. On August 6, the agency announced it favors a smaller footprint than the original proposal, a reduction of 12% percent to 3,564 acres. This would lessen the site's impact on sensitive plant and animal species. And on August 3, a California Energy Commission siting committee issued a proposed decision recommending approval of Ivanpah, another step in the regulatory process. Also, a Notice of Availability published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 6 in the Federal Register starts a 30-day protest period for the proposed amendment to the California Desert Conservation Area Plan, a necessary step before the project could be approved. DOE announced on February 22 that it was offering conditional commitments of more than $1.37 billion in loan guarantees to BrightSource Energy for the project. See the BLM press release, the BLM Ivanpah Web site, the California Energy Commission recommendation (PDF 9.28 MB), and the EPA notice in the Federal Register. Download Adobe Reader.

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