Calif. agency approves SoCal Edison’s first solar baseload contract

E&E News PM has the news on the reemergence of this essential form of solar power:

SAN FRANCISCO — California regulators today approved a solar thermal contract for Southern California Edison, the first such project for the utility and the first to count toward its state-mandated renewable energy target.

The state Public Utilities Commission approved Southern California Edison’s purchase of power from the 105-megawatt Gaskell Sun Tower project in Kern County, located in the southern part of the Central Valley. The plant is being developed by eSolar Inc., a renewable energy startup backed by Oak Investment Partners, Idealab, and Google’s for-profit philanthropic arm, One of’s goals is trying to get the cost of wind and solar power below that of coal-fired power; it has invested at least $130 million in eSolar this year.

Kudos to Google for backing solar baseload. More details below:

The Gaskell project would be the country’s second-largest solar thermal plant, after Florida Power & Light’s 310-megawatt Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. Slated to come online in April 2012, the plant has the option of expanding to 245 megawatts.

While the vast majority of solar plants in the United States use photovoltaic technology, companies are increasingly turning to solar thermal, which produces steam to run turbines. Photovoltaic systems are much less efficient and more subject to short-term fluctuations in sunlight.

Edison is the closest of the state’s three investor-owned utilities to meeting the 2010 target of 20 percent renewables, with contracts signed through 2012 for about 17 percent. (Utilities have until 2012 to meet the 2010 goal, although they are also subject to a 2020 target.) Edison asked the CPUC for permission to count the entire power purchase toward its 2010 target of 20 percent renewables. The plant’s output would contribute between 1 and 3 percent of Edison’s 2012 procurement target.

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13 Responses to Calif. agency approves SoCal Edison’s first solar baseload contract

  1. darth says:

    This is good news, but lately i hear stories about ‘environmentalists’ in CA now protesting solar plants – specifically baseload solar thermal because of all the new transmission lines and that fact that it is still centralized industrial scale operation.

    Do you think this will be a real problem given the amount of new power lines that will need to be built?

  2. Brooks says:

    The project discussed in the link below, due to be completed in 2010, also seems more than worthy of note:

    “Here Comes the Sun! FPL’s Next Generation Solar Energy Center to Be World’s First Hybrid Solar Plant, First Utility-Scale Solar Facility in Florida”

    A quote from this link:

    “The facility will be the nation’s second-largest solar energy facility when it is fully operational in 2010. The Martin facility is the largest of three solar projects FPL is building in Florida. With a combined total of 110 megawatts of emissions-free energy, the facilities will make Florida the No. 2 producer of solar energy nationwide and will avoid nearly 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide over the lives of the plants. “

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    darth – I’ve seen the random post by someone concerned about thermal solar being installed in “places of beauty” and transmission lines strung across National Parks. But I haven’t seen any concern by any group of any size.

    Any installation is going to have to pass environmental review.

    There is lots of “low quality” land in the desert that can be utilized. (Pull up a Google map of the US and look at the amount of open land in the US Southwest.)

    There are already power lines strung from place to place. We can put new facilities in places where the view is not compromised and species are not significantly impacted.

  4. Bob Wallace says:

    Joe – I’ve lived in the Central Valley. During the winter there can be day after day when there is no sun because of the very dense fog – the “Tuely fog”. The fog can get so dense that you can’t even tell where the sun is in the sky. And can persist for days/weeks.

    The Kern County facility won’t be a “baseload” source. It will be a “supply summer air conditioners” source.

  5. Joe says:

    The solar baseload stuff will be closer to the desert, yes.

    These early CSP plants are just the start of the reemergence of this essential industry.

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    There was discussion of building a solar thermal plant in the south end of the Valley (Kern County area) that would burn biogas from feedlot/dairy manure in sunless hours. Don’t find anything on line about that now.

    Seems that PG&E is now looking to feed biogas directly into their natural gas pipelines….

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Bob Wallace — Biogasse is a mixture of CO, CO2 and CH4 (and sometimes micro-organisms).. I’m sure they will process the stuff, just letting the biomethane into the natural gas pipelines; this is being done elswhere in the U.S. and in Germany.

  8. While this is a step in the right direction, Joe, your use of the term solar baseload is introducing further distortion into the mix here. There is no mention of storage accompanying this plant in the announcements. Esolar has flirted with the notion that they COULD use storage but I don’t see anything that concretely says that the Gaskell project will include storage. It may very well be more of a “solar peak shaver” than anything else (which good too).

    So, while I understand you are engaging in the somewhat Orwellian exercise of naming something in a propagandistic way that distorts the reality of that thing, this is not even the 3 to 6 hour storage plants that you have (mis)named solar baseload.

    Joe, I think people are smart enough to understand, or should become smart enough to understand that we are facing a major challenge in replacing the stored energy of fossil fuels with energy flows like solar. We can do it, but we are going to have to START doing it first. Building solar thermal electric or CSP plants without storage is fine and good and I support it but this doesn’t create the market for scale and innovation in thermal storage that we need. Your calling all of this “solar baseload” is selling people short.

    [JR: I call it solar baseload now because we won’t get to change the name later. Storage is coming soon, as you know, but it would be crazy not to support non-storage plants in the mean time.]

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Michael Hoexter — As I understand the way the power people use the term, ‘baseload’ is set the previous day; it goes up in the morning to some peak in the afternoon and then down to some nighttime minimum; the ratio appears to be about 3 to 2 (for California). On top of the baseload, which the power distributors guarantee to buy from the producers, there is usually some need for additional power to meet unanticipated needs at various times of day or night. (I don’t recall the term, but these power blocks are bought in 1 MW units, very small.) The demand for this power could be met by rolling reserves, that depends upon the regulations for reliabity, but also natural gas powered or oil powered producers.

    The point is that Joe Romm is correct in calling these units ‘solar baseload’, even if there is no storage. All power purchased the day previous to delivery is ‘baselaod’; surely solar thermal will be done mostly this way, although the regualtors might require that some portion of it be ‘rolling reserve’. Clearly ‘ready reserve’ is going to have to become the term used; solar thermals don’t roll.

  10. David Benson and Joe,
    Long and short of it, producing the “always on” baseload of power that is usually supplied by coal or nuclear (ramping is inefficient or impossible) or in some places hydro (very ramp-able) is the most sensible understanding of the term “baseload”. This is usually described as 35%-40% of maximum power demand. If you look at the daily load profile for power, baseload is that band at the bottom that goes from zero to 24 hours.

    “Dispatchability” is what you are describing, David Benson. A plant that is dispatchable can be scheduled or can be called up at a moments notice. There are complaints by power system operators that wind and solar PV without storage are not dispatchable in the sense that they cannot be scheduled so well (though less so for PV).

    The Solar Two or Tres design or those proposed by Solar Reserve can be described as “solar baseload” and could shut down coal plants during at least 9 months of the year if located in some of the sunniest places as well as provide in the summer peak, some load following or peak shaving capacity.

    The current renewable energy policy and electricity market environment does not favor building storage with these plants. We need a “solar baseload” policy that incentivizes utilities to REPLACE their fossil baseload and load-following output with true solar baseload (or load following) designs. Otherwise the climate-protective effect of these plants is FAR from maximized. I am attempting to build momentum in this direction via the educational/clearinghouse website

    I realize that after so many years of not building these plants, we are all glad that some are being built, even without storage. “Bravo” for Esolar and SCE but lets take the (not very big) next steps into the world of renewables that replace the functions of fossil plants.

  11. Jim Bullis says:

    How is it possible to have a discussion about solar concentration power generation without first addressing the existing experience base. The following is a quote pasted from Forbes Magazine of Nov 24.

    In the Mojave Desert near Daggett, Calif. the Department of Energy poured $147 million into Solar One, a plant that concentrated solar energy from 2,000 mirrors onto a 300-foot concrete tower to make steam. It began operating in 1982 and was converted in 1995 to heat 3.4 million pounds of salt to a liquid state. DOE officials called the plant “a resounding success” when partner Southern California Edison shut it down in 1999 for the usual reason: It wasn’t commercially viable.

    What went wrong here? Then it might be sensible to discuss new possibilities.

  12. msn nickleri says:

    This is good news, but lately i hear stories about ‘environmentalists’ in CA now protesting solar plants – specifically baseload solar thermal because of all the new transmission lines and that fact that it is still centralized industrial scale operation.

    Do you think this will be a real problem given the amount of new power lines that will need to be built?