Energy and global warming news for December 22: Concentrated solar thermal power (aka solar baseload) advances; EPA to double down on climate;

Solar projects storing energy in molten salt move ahead [click on image to enlarge]

SolarReserve Co. has received essential clearances on its first two utility-scale solar projects, offering power after sundown by storing solar-generated energy in reservoirs as molten salt.

The Santa Monica, Calif., company got approval Monday from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management for its 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah, Nev.

Last week, the California Energy Commission approved construction and operation of SolarReserve’s Rice Solar Energy Project, a 150-megawatt generator located near Blythe, in eastern Riverside County, Calif. The project still requires approval of its environmental impact statement by BLM and the Western Area Power Administration, the company said.

The projects have an estimated cost of $650 million to $750 million each and should be under construction in 2011, with completion scheduled for 2013-2014. SolarReserve is seeking Energy Department loan guarantees for both projects. A third project, in Arizona, is under development.

SolarReserve’s system is an answer to the intermittency and ramping up challenges that solar power presents, said Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive. Based initially on DOE-funded research by Rocketdyne (now Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies Corp.), the projects use mirrors to concentrate solar energy on power towers, heating molten salt inside to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated molten salt is stored in insulated tanks and is called on as needed to produce steam, driving turbine generators.

Electricity from the Nevada project, developed by SolarReserve’s subsidiary, Tonopah Solar Energy LLC, will be sold to NV Energy under a 25-year power purchase agreement. The initial rate will be just over 13 cents per kilowatt-hour and will increase by 1 percent in following years, according to the company’s filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will purchase power from the California project, also for 25 years. No pricing information on that project was available yesterday.

As more plants are built, the cost of energy from the projects will decline, Smith said. “We are confident that the overall costs will ultimately be driven down well under 10 cents a kilowatt-hour,” he said. “We believe that is competitive versus adding new generation, including nuclear, clean coal and solar photovoltaic power,” he added. The current average retail price in the Southwest is between 11 and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Smith said the starting point for the plants’ design is technology developed for liquid-fueled rocket engines through a DOE pilot project in the late 1990s. Rocketdyne has continued to invest in core technologies for the project, including high heat transfer, specialized welding and the use of liquid salts as cooling agents, Smith said.

“The technology is ready to go,” he said.

“The critical part of our technology is the storage capability, which allow us to provide very competitive renewable energy. Because of storage, we can meet peak demand requirements exactly.” The projects can also supply “regulation” services — the short-term balancing responses required to assure demand always equals supply on the grid, he added.

Able to deliver electricity during afternoons and up to eight hours after sundown, the system produces much more energy over the course of a year than do traditional solar or wind projects that don’t have their own power storage capability, he said.

SolarReserve, which holds the worldwide license for the Rocketdyne technology, is a development arm of US Renewables Group, a private equity firm that is concentrating on renewable energy projects ranging from solar and wind energy to biomass generation in more than a dozen countries. Investors have put a second round of financing behind SolarReserve totaling $140 million to advance its utility-scale solar power plants worldwide. US Renewables, Citi Alternative Investments and Good Energies, a global investor in renewable energy, led the funding commitments.

Its California and Nevada projects follow one by Spain’s Abengoa Solar, which has received a $1.45 billion DOE loan guarantee commitment to build a 280-megawatt solar plant with molten salt storage 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. The two firms use different technologies to concentrate solar energy in heating molten salt.

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EPA to double down on climate

The Obama administration is expected to roll out a major greenhouse gas policy for power plants and refineries as soon as Wednesday, signaling it won’t back off its push to fight climate change in the face of mounting opposition on Capitol Hill.

The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to a schedule for setting greenhouse gas emission limits, known as “performance standards,” for the nation’s two biggest carbon-emitting industries, POLITICO has learned.

Under the schedule agreed to by EPA, states and environmental groups, the agency will issue a draft greenhouse gas performance standard for power plants by July 2011 and a final rule by May 2012. The agreement – which comes after states and environmentalists challenged the George W. Bush administration’s failure to set the standards – requires EPA to issue a draft limit for refineries by Dec. 2011 and a final rule by Nov. 2012….

Starting Jan. 2, EPA will begin regulating large stationary sources of the heat-trapping emissions, but those requirements only apply to new and upgraded facilities and will be determined on a case-by-case basis, so it’s unclear how deeply they will slash emissions. The forthcoming standards would set industry-specific standards and could require some of the oldest, dirtiest facilities to clamp down on carbon dioxide.

The agreement doesn’t specify what type of requirements EPA will impose on the industries, but environmentalists say the rules have the potential to require substantial emission reductions in existing facilities while offering industry the type of regulatory certainty it’s been calling for.

Conflict of interest questions raised in blowout preventer testing

A Transocean supervisor who worked on the Deepwater Horizon rig before it exploded has since participated in an investigation of the blowout preventer that failed to stop gushing oil from the well it was drilling “” a possible conflict of interest that a congressional critic says threatens the integrity of the probe.

A Transocean supervisor who worked on the Deepwater Horizon before it exploded has since participated in testing of the device that failed to prevent a blowout of the well the rig was drilling “” a possible conflict of interest that a congressional critic says threatens the integrity of the probe.

Alaska officials says state will sue over federal protection of polar bears

Alaska officials filed notice Tuesday that the state would sue the federal government over a decision to designate a swath of the Arctic as critical habitat for polar bears faced with the effects of climate change.

Republican Gov. Sean Parnell contends the critical habitat designation, which covers 187,000 square miles and was announced by the Obama administration last month, will delay jobs and increase costs “” or even kill “” resource development projects that are important to Alaska.

“Once again, we are faced with federal overreach that threatens our collective prosperity,” he said. “We don’t intend to let this stand.”

Drilling review out of spending bill

A plan approved by the Senate and House to continue federal spending until March does not contain a controversial provision tripling a 30-day mandatory federal review period for offshore oil and gas plans, likely the last chance the White House had to get such a mandate through Congress.

Oil-state lawmakers in both parties fiercely opposed language to extend to 90 days the amount of time federal offshore drilling regulators can take to review these drilling plans – which include environmental analyses, oil spill response strategies and other aspects of a larger blueprint that need to be approved before a company requests an actual permit to drill.

The 90-day review period – which was pushed by the Obama administration – was included in a yearlong continuing spending resolution the House passed this month, as well as an omnibus spending plan that would have run through fiscal year 2011. That died late last week in the Senate.

The slimmed down Senate-passed continuing resolution removed the 60-day review extension and a host of other unrelated policy changes.

World’s Largest Solar Power Plant will be Built in Nevada by SECP and POSCO

Sustainable Energy Capital Partners (SECP), a developer of renewable energy projects, announced a joint venture partnership with POSCO Power, the largest independent power producer in South Korea, for developing and building a 300-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic solar power plant in Boulder City, Nevada.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the second half of 2012 and is expected to create jobs for hundreds of locals. Once fully operational, the plant will have enough capacity to provide electricity to almost 135,000 households for 25 years.

“Our partnership with POSCO Power will become an example of what’s possible in today’s solar industry when global companies work together to implement a shared vision. We, at SECP, are certainly pleased to be bringing much-needed jobs to Nevada while advancing our mission of providing power that is both clean and sustainable,” said Steve Herr, Managing Director of SECP.

Parsons Corporation, one of the largest engineering, technical, construction, and management services firms in the world, will also take part in the project.

12 Responses to Energy and global warming news for December 22: Concentrated solar thermal power (aka solar baseload) advances; EPA to double down on climate;

  1. catman306 says:

    The news about our EPA doing their job is like a Christmas present. Thanks, EPA and interns, you’ve uplifted my spirits. And not a minute too soon.

    Alaska will miss all of those polar bears when the alligators start taking over their wetlands and rivers. (sarcastic humor, but you never know…)

  2. David B. Benson says:

    I’d call it load following power, more valuable than plain old baseload.

    [JR: BTDT, no one would know what I meant.]

  3. jimvj says:

    Many years ago, Ronald Bailey the science reporter for the libertarian Reason magazine, did a real hatchet job on Solar One/Two. He basically claimed that the cost of the experimental system – very high, of course – would be the same for production systems. I have not been able to find a copy of that review online.

    I hope some one can point me tot it.

  4. Prokaryotes says:

    Great idea to put the related post feature for “blockbuster” news.

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    Climate change optimism
    Our view: U.N. talks may not have produced binding accords, but there’s still a chance to save polar bears — and human lives

    The best news to be found on the climate change front this month was a report that the polar bear, a threatened species that has come to symbolize the dangers of global warming, may yet be saved — if greenhouse emissions are reduced over the next two decades.

    Unfortunately, that’s a big “if.” International climate talks that ended early this month in Cancun produced no legally binding agreement. They weren’t expected to — nor is the stalemate expected to break in the near future. Negotiators are keeping expectations low for next year’s United Nations-sponsored conference in South Africa.

    Between the failures of diplomacy and the post-midterm-election rightward shift in the U.S. Congress, where Republican denial of climate change science appears to be at an all-time high, a person might be tempted to head to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore this winter to bid the species a fond farewell. (How fortunate that for the first time in five years, the zoo will have January and February hours. Tickets are still available.)

    But there are reasons not to be disheartened. On any number of fronts, this country is moving ahead with efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. From federal investments in renewable energy to tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, the U.S. may not be a leader in the battle against climate change, but it’s not a total straggler either.
    Text OPINION to 70701 to get weekday commentary roundups delivered to your mobile device

    Most critical is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must move ahead with new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under existing Clean Air Act authority — as the U.S. Supreme Court (hardly a liberal bastion) has already ruled it has the authority to do. The next Congress will no doubt take another crack at rewriting the country’s energy policies, but the chances of compromise over such a contentious issue seem remote.,0,7312494.story

  6. Ziyu says:

    With continued tax incentives for renewables, REDD type farm subsidies, ending fossil fuel subsidies, a 50 mpg fuel efficiency standard by 2050 and the EPA’s renewable fuels standard, there’s potential for over 60% emissions reductions by 2050. Add in a little of EPA greenhouse gas regulations and the US could theoretically meet the 2050 80% goal without a climate bill. Some of the stuff can be done through executive order and some can still be done in the new Republican emboldened Congress.

  7. Joy Hughes says:

    I do think that bottom-up will beat top-down. The price of thin film solar panels is dropping faster than CSP technologies, and solar on the roof is much better than destroying the desert in order to save it. Rather than angering the locals, people can work on their own energy independence, as communities and individuals.

    Everyone likes solar panels, even Republicans, as a way to gain energy independence. Not independence from foreign countries, but independence from the power company. Lizzie Rubado of the Energy Trust of Oregon calls solar the “gateway drug”, as people who go solar suddenly get interested in those oh-so-boring efficiency measures. They are sexy in a way insulation is not.

    As panel costs plummet over the next five years, investing in localized solutions will give a bigger carbon “bang for the buck”. In the mid-term (5-10 years) we will be seeing much cheaper batteries for community-scale storage.

    This is how we engage people, not by Soviet-style central planning and sacrifice zones.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    Oil tops $91 at post-crisis high, OPEC bulls eye $100
    Oil shot to a more than two-year high for a second day in a row on Thursday, and some analysts said a run at $100 a barrel is inevitable, as one key OPEC member expressed little alarm over the rally.

    How long will the developed world pump more and more money to the arab world?

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Can a ‘Global Thermostat’ Turn Climate Change Around?

    Global Thermostat sounds too good to be true: It’s a startup company that aims to address the threat of climate change by capturing carbon dioxide from the air, and then making productive use of it.

    While Global Thermostat calls itself “a carbon negative solution,” its technology is in practice a form of geoengineering. It would appear, however, to be less risky than better-known geoengineering techniques such as solar radiation management or marine cloud whitening.

    “We’ve faced skepticism about the solution because it’s so radical,” says Graciela Chichilnisky, a co-founder and managing director of Global Thermostat. But, she says, a carbon negative solution to the climate crisis will be needed “to contain rising levels of atmospheric carbon because we procrastinated too long and carbon emissions reductions do not suffice.”

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Storm lashes California and leaves polluted water

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — California residents who endured flooding, mudslides and evacuations during a weeklong onslaught of rain now have another problem: contaminated water and fouled beaches.

    The rain washed trash, pesticides and bacteria into waterways, prompting health warnings. Four beaches were closed in Northern California’s San Mateo County, and another 12 miles of beach from Laguna Beach to San Clemente in Southern California’s Orange County were off-limits because of sewer overflows.

    Numerous motorists were rescued from swamped cars during the days of rain, but one driver was killed. The body of Angela Wright, 39, of Menifee was recovered from a car that was swept off a flooded road Wednesday near Canyon Lake in Riverside County, the coroner’s office said.

    While the rain has eased, the danger was not over for foothill residents living below wildfire-scarred hillsides.

    “The ground is so saturated it could move at any time” and the threat will remain for several weeks, said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

  11. MarkF says:

    “the projects use mirrors to concentrate solar energy on power towers, heating molten salt inside to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated molten salt is stored in insulated tanks and is called on as needed to produce steam, driving turbine generators.”

    This is intriguing.

    Molten salt for heat storage. It would be interesting to read about the process that this evolved through.

    Joe Romm, right as usual with this:

    “I’d call it load following power, more valuable than plain old baseload.

    [JR: BTDT, no one would know what I meant.]”