CEC approves 370 MW solar thermal project in Mojave Desert

It is the fourth solar thermal power plant to be licensed by the U.S.-based commission in the past month.

In a "unanimous" vote, the Energy Commission reportedly adopted the presiding member’s proposed decision (PMPD) that recommended licensing the facility proposed for San Bernardino County. In order to qualify for federal stimulus funds, the project needed to be approved by the Energy Commission before this December 31.

According to the commission, the project would be among the first commercial solar thermal power plants permitted on federal public land in the U.S. It still requires a decision from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), however, which approves the use of federal public lands, before it can proceed. The BLM’s action is scheduled for October.

CEC went on to say that BrightSource Energy, Inc. of Oakland would develop three solar thermal power plants and shared facilities in the Mojave Desert west of Ivanpah Dry Lake and 4.5 miles southwest of Primm, Nevada. The project would be located across 3,582 acres of public land managed by BLM. The project’s footprint was reduced by 12 percent from 4,073 acres to 3,582 acres, explained the commission, in order to “lessen the impact to biological resources”.

If approved, the project is expected to be constructed in three phases: one 120 MW phase and two 125 MW phases. It is based on distributed power tower and heliostat mirror technology, in which heliostat (mirror) fields focus solar energy on tower receivers near the center of each heliostat array to generate steam-driven electricity.

"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."

Byron served as the presiding member of the committee that reviewed the plant’s application for certification.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project is one of nine large solar thermal projects scheduled to go before the Commission before the end of the year. More than 4,300 MWs of solar power will be added if all nine projects are approved. The nine projects would provide more than 8,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 operational jobs.

The three previously licensed plants are: 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 a September 29 meeting.