BrightSource Energy presents solar plan
BrightSource Energy is seeking approval from the California Energy Commission to build two 250-megawatt solar power plants in Inyo County on the 3,200 acre Hidden Hills Ranch near the California-Nevada border. BrightSource filed an application with the Energy Commission in August, and the Commission held its first formal hearing regarding the project at the Tecopa Community Center earlier this month.
The proposed Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) would begin generating energy as early as 2015, producing enough energy to serve more than 178,000 homes in California during peak hours.
According to a preliminary economic study, the project would create more than 1,000 construction jobs at its peak, and approximately 120 operations and maintenance jobs. Although BrightSource has noted its track record of using local union labor for its projects, it remains unclear how many local workers the company would employ for the construction, operation and maintenance of the two facilities. Regardless, BrightSource maintains that the influx of construction workers would provide an economic boost for the local community. The economic study also indicated that over the plant’s 25-year life, construction wages are expected to reach nearly $160 million, with total employee earnings estimated at nearly $390 million.
So far community reception of the project has been ambivalent. The Tecopa hearing attracted residents from Inyo County as well as Pahrump and Las Vegas, and District 2 Supervisor Susan Cash reported a mix of responses from those assembled. The most oft heard phrase, she said, was “We’re for renewable energy, but…”
That “but” was in regards to both environmental and aesthetic concerns.
BrightSource has pointed out that the Hidden Hills SEGS would use a new plant design, which, for utility-scale solar projects of similar capacity, reduces land use by 33% or more compared to a typical photovoltaic (PV) farm and parabolic trough solar thermal plant.
However, the proposed 85,000 heliostats (components of a more efficient energy system made up of mirrors which track the sun) focusing solar rays on a 750-foot power tower at each site might still be considered an eyesore by some adjacent residents.
The heliostats would be placed on individual poles anchored directly into the ground, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and avoid areas of sensitive vegetation. Other solar technology system designs often require extensive land grading and concrete pads.
Clay Jensen, Director of Project Development, said that BrightSource won’t clear cut the land at Hidden Hills Ranch, and that thus far environmental studies have shown the area to be of low desert tortoise quality habitat.
BrightSource has already secured two power purchase agreements for 2,600 megawatts with Southern California Edison and PG&E, and the Hidden Hills SEGS would provide power to BrightSource’s existing customers under these power purchase agreements. The specific details are currently confidential, but will be made public in coming weeks.
Meanwhile power transmission is dependent upon the extension of a transmission line east into Nevada to Highway 160, and a possible partnership in the transmission with Valley Electric Association, which has filed a right-of-way application with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a 500-kilovolt power line that would extend to the Eldorado substation south of Boulder City.
The next step for BrightSource: negotiate a development agreement with Inyo County as they near the end of the permitting process with the California Energy Commission. Hidden Hills Ranch sits within a Charleston View Solar Zone, an amendment to the Inyo County general plan intended to encourage solar development by providing the proper zoning already. Meanwhile the Energy Commission will continue to review the environmental and cultural studies submitted by BrightSource. The Commission is expected to come to a decision by late 2012.