Abengoa puts a 250 MW solar CSP plant online in California


On December 1st, Spanish engineering company Abengoa officially commissioned the 250 MW (net) Mojave Solar Project through its yieldco vehicle. Like the 250 MW Solana project which Abengoa connected to the grid in October 2013, the Mojave is based on a parabolic trough design.

The project is located near Barstow in Southern California and is the fourth CSP plant over 250 MW to come online in California and Arizona over the last 14 months. These four total 1.13 GW of capacity – more than the average nuclear reactor.

As was the case with all of these projects, the U.S. Department of Energy supported Mojave through its Loan Guarantee Program. In the case of Mojave, the loan guarantee covered US$1.2 billion of project’s total investment of US$1.6 billion.

This program was widely maligned by the U.S. press in sensationalistic articles during the bankruptcies of PV maker Solyndra and other recipients. However, most of these articles failed to note that 87% of the loan guarantees by value were provided to power generation projects like Mojave and not technology companies, which made for much lower-risk investments.

In addition to these large CSP projects, the loan guarantee program has supported some of the world’s largest PV plants, including NRG and First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente PV project in Arizona.

Mojave is owned by Abengoa Yield. Along with NRG, NextEra and SunEdison, Abengoa created a yieldco vehicle to hold mostly renewable energy assets in April.

Like most conventional generation, the Mojave Project also utilizes a wet cooling design for its steam turbines. This method of cooling is less expensive than dry cooling, but has come under criticism for its heavy water use in sensitive desert areas. Abengoa argues that water use on the 714 hectare site is only 1/5 of what is typically consumed for agricultural purposes.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories estimates that the plant will produce 600 gigawatt-hours annually, giving the plant a capacity factor around 27%. This is higher than most PV projects; however past experience has shown that many CSP projects take a minimum of several months to reach their full output.