California-based BrightSource Energy in the past week received two key approvals for its 392-MW Ivanpah concentrating solar power (CSP) plant in the Mojave Desert. The California Energy Commission’s (CEC’s) siting committee issued a proposed decision recommending approval, and on Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project.

The Ivanpah project, located in southeastern California, consists of three separate solar thermal power plants The CEC’s proposed decision marks the beginning of a 30-day public comment period, after which the project will be put before the full CEC for a final decision.

The BLM issued the FEIS following an extensive evaluation of alternative environmental designs required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The BLM concluded that the 392-MW option identified in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement is the preferred alternative.

The permitting milestones follow a conditional commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy this February for $1.37 billion in loan guarantees to support the financing of the project.

BrightSource expects to have all of the final permits to commence construction in fall 2010. The power generated from these solar plants will be sold under separate contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). PG&E will purchase approximately two-thirds of the power generated at Ivanpah, and SCE will purchase approximately one-third.

BrightSource has modified the project to garner regulatory approvals. To take up less space, the CSP project proposes to mount mirrors on individual poles that are placed directly into the ground, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and avoid areas of sensitive vegetation.

In order to conserve water, the Ivanpah project will employ an air-cooling system to convert the steam back into water in a closed-loop cycle. “By using air-cooling, the project will use only 100 acre feet of water per year, approximately 95 percent less water than competing solar thermal technologies that use wet-cooling,” BrightSource claims.

Sources: BrightSource, CEC, POWERnews