BrightSource Energy gets federal approval for its solar power towers

Another big solar project is headed for federal land in California. This one, the Ivanpah Project, will look a little different.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Just two days after the first big solar projects to be built on federal land obtained final approvals, the Bureau of Land Management gives the go ahead for yet another huge solar project in southern California.

BrightSource Energy is now set to begin construction on a 392-megawatt solar thermal plant they hope to finish by mid-2012. The Ivanpah Solar Electric System could potentially power 140,000 homes and offset around 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The other two projects are Tessera Solar's concentrating solar dishes or "suncatchers" in Imperial Valley and Chevron Energy's photovoltaic panels in Lucerne Valley. BrightSource's Ivanpah System will involve three power towers and many, many flat, angled mirrors.

Over 3,500 acres, tens of thousands of mirrors will reflect sunlight toward receivers on the towers, where the concentrated solar energy will heat water to temperatures topping 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The steam powers a turbine, generating electricity. Because water in the Mojave Desert is hard to come by, the project will use a closed-loop, air-cooling system that reverts the steam back into water. Ivanpah will require only 100 acre feet of water each year, which is 95 percent less than other solar thermal technologies that employ wet-cooling, according to BrightSource.

In February, the project received $1.37 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.

While getting the final nods to put these projects on federal lands is great news for the solar industry, might it be too much at once regarding transmission?

The New York Times reports:

But even with federal approval, a major hurdle remains for most of the projects: finding excess capacity on transmission lines in the desert, most of which are fully booked or nearly so. At the moment, capacity exists for about 345 megawatts of the 754 megawatts that would eventually be generated by the two newly approved projects.

The rest would require a new line, like San Diego Gas & Electric’s 123-mile proposed Sunrise Powerlink, which has been approved but faces challenges in federal and state courts.

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Image: BrightSource Energy

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