BrightSource to build largest concentrating solar power plant

On August 4th, 2010, Brightsource Energy Inc., an Oakland, California-based developer of utility-scale solar thermal power plants, announced that the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) siting committee recommended approval of what will be the world’s largest solar energy project. The project, called the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS), consists of a three-plant, 392-megawatt solar electric generating system located in California’s Mojave Desert. After a 30-day comment period passes, the final permits allowing the commencement of construction will most likely be issued. Additionally, Brightsource Inc. has received a conditional commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy for $1.37 billion in loan guarantees to fund the project.

The electric power that the plants generate will be contracted to two utility companies, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co., under separate long-term contracts that will deliver more than 2,600 megawatts of electric power. Impressively, Ivanpah will double the amount of solar thermal electricity currently produced in the U.S. Additional benefits of the project include:

  • Creation of more than 1,000 local union jobs at the peak of construction.
  • Production of enough clean energy to power 140,000 homes.
  • Reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 400,000 tons annually, the equivalent of taking more than 70,000 cars off the road.
  • Providing $650 million in employee wages over its first 30-year life.

“Solar thermal power produces electricity by using mirrors to heat water or molten salt in a central tower.” While other solar technologies can require extensive land grading and concrete pads, the Ivanpah project takes a different approach to environmental design; the project will feature mirrors mounted on poles that are placed directly into the ground allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and avoiding areas of sensitive vegetation. Moreover, the high altitude and flat landscape of the Mojave Desert make it an ideal landscape for solar thermal technology.

Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, says of the project:

This proposed decision moves us one step closer to putting the High Desert’s talented labor pool to work building our state’s much needed infrastructure. Ivanpah is setting a great standard by training and employing the middle-class workers that support our state’s economy.

According to Amy Davidsen, U.S. Director of The Climate Group:

Large-scale solar technologies provide one of our best hopes for solving the problem of global climate change. To meet this potential, we need to scale up the use of these technologies as soon as possible. Today’s proposed decision recommending approval of the Ivanpah project represents a major step toward the realization of this goal.

The Ivanpah project demonstrates that, when we invest heavily in clean energy technology, the benefits will range from job creation to carbon dioxide reductions to a reinvigorated economy to abundant energy production. The future now appears brighter because of this step towards clean energy technology.

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Guest blogger Laurel Hunt is an intern with the energy policy team at the Center for American Progress. She is a rising senior at University of California Santa Cruz.