BrightSource Energy eyes second large solar plant

Solar power plant seeks proposal to pack in more power per square foot with an updated design meant to address concerns over the environmental impact of utility-scale renewable energy systems.

A concentrating solar thermal power plant concentrates light onto a tower to make steam which turns a turbine to generate electricity. BrightSource's second California plant would use a tweaked design to lighten the environmental impact. BrightSource Energy

BrightSource Energy has proposed a second, utility-scale solar power project in California, offering a changed plant design in an effort to avoid environmental permitting problems.

The Oakland, Calif.-based company today said it submitted an application to the California Energy Commission for two solar power plants able to generate 250 megawatts each in Inyo County, Calif. Called the Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System, the project would generate power by using a field of sun-tracking mirrors to create high-temperature steam that turns a standard electricity turbine.

BrightSource's Ivanpah solar power plant in Southern California is one of the few large-scale solar thermal projects to get through the regulatory process, get financing, and begin construction. That plant has been slowed by a number of environment-related concerns, including the amount of water used and the impact of construction on a endangered desert tortoise.

With the Hidden Hills plants, which would take up 5.12 square miles, BrightSource said it has changed the design in an effort to address environmental issues. It hopes to have the plants online by the end of 2015, according to a company representative.

The updated plant design has a taller tower--going to 750 feet from about 450 feet--which will allow the project developer to place heliostats closer together. The mirrors will be placed directly on poles, which means they can be placed into the ground without having to grade the ground underneath.

BrightSource has also chosen to build on a privately owned parcel of land, which had been slated for construction of a housing subdivision, located about 45 miles west of Las Vegas. The Ivanpah project is being built on federally owned Bureau of Land Management land, making for a longer regulatory process.

The company estimates that the energy from the plant would be enough to power 178,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 500,000 tons annually.

As the Ivanpah project and proposals showed, developing large-scale renewable energy systems raises serious environmental concerns and debates over land use . BrightSource estimates that the concentrating solar thermal technology reduces land use by 33 percent compared with arrays of flat solar photovtaic panels or a plant that uses mirrored troughs to create steam.

 

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