California calls for scaled-down version of Palen CSP project

On late Friday the California Energy Commission (CEC) issued a Presiding Members Proposed Decision for the Palen Solar Energy Generating Systems, a concentrating solar power (CSP) project proposed by Brightsource and Abengoa near the Joshua Tree National Monument in California.

Commissioners Karen Douglas and David Hochschild recommended approval of a single 230-meter solar power tower with 1,900 mirror structures (heliostats) and a capacity of 250 MW. This is a reduction from the original plan for a 500 MW project with two solar power towers, which the CEC recommended for denial last October.

Several environmental groups remain opposed to the project, despite the reduced size, citing concerns including projections of bird deaths. CEC staff has testified that Palen will propose a greater risk to birds than the Ivanpah project, which has been in the news consistently regarding concerns over bird deaths.

“I think the Palen project is in the wrong place,” Lisa Belenky, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) told PV Magazine. CBD has long opposed the Palen project, and has hired a consultant that gave estimates of bird deaths at the Ivanpah site several orders of magnitude higher than shown in official counts.

In its decision, CEC staff noted that even the smaller footprint would result in “significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated” for visual, cultural and biological resources, but ruled that the project’s benefits outweighed these concerns. The CEC’s recommendation will now go to a 30-day public comment period. The final decision on the project will be issued on October 29, 2014.