By Mark Waite
BrightSource Energy, a company building a solar power plant in Ivanpah Valley, submitted an application to the California Energy Commission to construct two, 250-megawatt solar power plants on Tecopa Road.
The project is being planned on the 3,200-acre Hidden Hills Ranch, just across the California state line. At its peak, the project is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs, with 120 permanent operations and maintenance jobs once it’s completed, which is expected to be in 2014.
A 500-megawatt operation is enough to service 178,000 homes.
Clay Jensen, director of project development, said the application to construct with the energy commission is similar to the filing for an environmental impact statement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for use of public land.
The energy commission will review environmental and cultural studies submitted by the company. The review is expected to take until late 2012.
BrightSource Energy was approached by representatives of the Wiley Family Trust about the land, Jensen said. Part of it was a 40-acre orchard; it was more recently proposed as a residential subdivision, he said. The site is across the Tecopa Road from the Charleston View Estates subdivision, a collection of manufactured homes. Across the state line, the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute isn’t far away.
“It was being packaged and marketed to solar companies. Quite honestly the Wiley Trust representative, they have a land broker that sought us out. They did a significant amount of research on solar companies, trying to scope out which ones were more credible than others. They pre-selected us without our knowledge,” Jensen said.
BrightSource entered into dialogue with the property owners in spring 2010. They entered into final land negotiations and an option agreement for the site in late 2010, Jensen said. After they received control of the site, BrightSource began doing their heavy study work in the fourth quarter of 2010, in support of the energy commission application, he said.
“This particular site caught our eye immediately because it’s flat. The native environment from an environmental perspective is of a better quality for development and the transmission access could play a part in a more regional transmission solution,” Jensen said.
Some plusses for the environment, it’s of low desert tortoise quality habitat, it’s on private land and the company will use 140 acre feet of water with dry cooling technology, he said.
“There is a feeling in the environmental community and project stakeholders there’s a preference to develop on private land. There’s a little more flexibility on site control on private land, you get a little more assurance when you secure the site,” Jensen said.
Jensen said his company won’t clear cut the land, the solar field doesn’t require concrete foundations, heliostats will be mounted on 12 foot pylons, half of it underground. That helps reduce erosion, helps with dust control and runoff during flash flood events, he said.
The project calls for two plants with 85,000 heliostats, focusing solar rays on a 750-foot power tower.
Water will be used in a steam cycle instead of a molten salt used in the Solar Reserve near Tonopah, a project expected to break ground this year. At the base of the tower, super heated steam produces power in a turbine, Jensen said.
“Our steam and temperatures rival that of fossil fuel plants and that gives us an advantage, it allows us to use the same equipment as a fossil fuel plant,” he said.
BrightSource already did desert tortoise studies, paleo-cultural, biology and botany studies at the Hidden Hills Ranch, Jensen said.
The lower quality desert tortoise habitat is a major advantage. A weather station has been collecting data on solar radiation and climate. Nothing to come out of the studies is considered a major project flaw, Jensen said.
A transmission line will be extended east into Nevada to Highway 160, Jensen said. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to hold public hearings in Pahrump on the transmission line, he said, which will be on public land.
BrightSource is exploring the possibility of being a partner in the transmission with Valley Electric Association, which has already filed a right-of-way application with the BLM for a 500-kilovolt power line, he said. The power line will extend to the Eldorado substation south of Boulder City.
“We’re optimistic we’re going to be working with VEA for the solar, to get our power to market,” Jensen said. It doesn’t make sense for Bright Source Energy to build its own power line, he said.
In an exciting development for local business leaders, a natural gas line from the Kern River pipeline is being proposed that would bring natural gas within seven miles of Pahrump.
BrightSource Energy was awarded a $1.4 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the 370-megawatt, Ivanpah project right across the state line from Primm, which began last October.
While the lack of a power purchase agreement has held up some projects, like Solar Millennium in Amargosa Valley, BrightSource Energy has PPAs already signed.
“We’ve got 2,600 megawatts in power purchase agreements with Southern California Edison and PG&E,” Jensen said. “Our first delivery under those contracts is our Ivanpah project.”
BrightSource will negotiate a development agreement with Inyo County as they near the end of the permitting process with the California Energy Commission, Jensen said. The site is in a Charleston View Solar Zone, an amendment to the Inyo County general plan meant to encourage solar development by providing the proper zoning already.
BrightSource Energy is a partner with Google; NRG, a wholesale power generation company; Bechtel Corp., the largest engineering and project management company in the U.S.; investment company Morgan Stanley and Chevron oil company. It’s headquartered in Oakland, Calif.
The company has had a pilot plant operational in Israel for over two years, Jensen said. Investors, Southern California Edison, PG&E and the U.S. Department of Energy have done audits of the Israel site and it’s done very well, he said.
BrightSource began construction of a solar to steam enhanced oil recovery project for Chevron in Coalinga, Calif. in 2009, installing 3,822 heliostats.
“You look at the credibility factors for Bright Source, it’s having a substantial project under construction, fully financed, with contracts, moving forward. It’s huge for credibility. Private land is a significant step. The third one is the existing power purchase agreements assignable to this project,” Jensen said.
“Ivanpah will be the first full-scale power production for our company with this technology,” Jensen said.
“Ivanpah is the largest solar project in the world that is moving forward.”
“We think we’re past the risk of the technology and now we’re moving into commercial viability,” he said.