The California Energy Commission (CEC) last week approved BrightSource Energy’s 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System proposed for construction in the Mojave Desert. The project is the fourth solar thermal power plant approved in the past month despite presenting “significant environmental challenges,” the commission said.

The CEC voted 5–0 to adopt the presiding member’s proposed decision (PMPD) that recommended licensing the facility proposed for San Bernardino County. Oakland-based BrightSource needed the CEC’s approval in order to qualify for some $1.4 billion in federal loan guarantees and stimulus funds. The project still requires a decision from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which approves the use of federal public lands, before it can proceed. The BLM’s action is scheduled for October.

"This project presented us with significant environmental challenges," said Energy Commissioner Jeffrey Byron. "However, the applicant’s changes to the original proposal and the constructive input of a record number of participants mean the Ivanpah project will now produce renewable energy and provide needed economic activity to the region while minimizing the impact to the desert’s natural environment."

The $2 billion project entails three solar thermal power plants and shared facilities in the Mojave Desert west of Ivanpah Dry Lake and 4.5 miles southwest of Primm, Nev. The project would be located on 3,582 acres of public land managed by the BLM. Following protests from environmental groups, the project’s footprint was reduced by 12%, from 4,073 acres to 3,582 acres, to lessen the impact to biological resources.

The project would be constructed in three phases: one 120-MW phase and two 125-MW phases. It is to be based on distributed power tower and heliostat mirror technology.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project is one of nine large solar thermal projects scheduled to go before the CEC before the end of the year. More than 4,300 MW of solar power will be added if all nine projects are approved, the commission said.

As reported in POWERnews, the CEC has already approved three plants in the past month: the 250-MW Beacon Solar Energy Project (Aug. 25); the 250-MW Abengoa Mojave Solar Project (Sept. 8); and the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project (Sept. 15). Two projects, the 250-MW Genesis Solar Energy Project and the 709-MW Imperial Valley Solar Project, are scheduled for a vote at the Sept. 29 meeting. Three other projects (the 663.5-MW Calico Solar Project, the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project, and the 150-MW Rice Solar Energy Project) are still under review.

In a related story, the CEC siting committee is recommending approval of the planned Calico Solar Project. According to the PMPD released Saturday, the proposed 663.5-MW scenario, “even with mitigation measures, will have significant environmental impacts in the areas of cultural resources, land use, and visual resources,” the CEC said. “However, the benefits of the project would override those impacts. In addition, the committee determined that the project complies with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards.”

The Calico Solar Project is being developed by Calico Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Tessera Solar, in San Bernardino County on approximately 4,613 acres of land managed by the BLM. The project site is near Interstate 40 approximately 37 miles east of Barstow and 17 miles east of Newberry Springs.

The project initially had been proposed as an 850-MW facility on 8,230 acres, but Calico Solar worked with CEC staff to reduce it to 6,215 acres. The primary equipment for this generating facility would be solar dish Stirling systems, or "SunCatchers." Each SunCatcher consists of a solar receiver heat exchanger and a closed-cycle, high-efficiency engine designed to convert solar power to rotary power, which then drives an electrical generator to produce electricity.

Sources: California Energy Commission, POWERnews