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BrightSource Energy raises funds for big solar plants

The concentrating-solar power company plans to use $150 million to build 14 solar power plants in southwest U.S. and to expand internationally.

BrightSource Energy has raised $150 million to fund the construction of large solar power plants in the southwest U.S. over the next six years, the company said Thursday.

New investors in the Oakland, Calif.-based company include the California State Teachers Retirement System and Alstom, the France-based conglomerate that develops power generation and rail projects. Existing investors VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson also funded the series D round, which brings the total equity raised for BrightSource Energy to more than $300 million.

The view of a solar tower from the heliostats on the ground which reflect light to the tower to make steam. BrightSource Energy

The money will be used to develop a planned 2,610 megawatts of solar power under contract from utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. The company also plans to expand internationally.

In all, BrightSource Energy plans to build 14 power plants between now and 2016 in the desert areas of the southwest U.S., where its concentrating-solar technology works best. The plants would provide enough electricity hundreds of thousands of U.S. homes.

The company expects to start construction later this year of the Ivanpah solar project in California, for which it received a $1.37 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

BrightSource Energy technology uses the sun's heat to make steam, which is passed through a turbine to generate electricity. Its plants are made up of fields of ground-mounted mirrors that reflect light onto a tower, which heats up a liquid to make steam.

Alstom said that it has invested $55 million of the total $150 million round and indicated it would provide engineering and project expertise in developing solar projects.

Although BrightSource has lined up financing and partners to aid in construction, large-scale solar projects require lengthy permitting processes and environmental reviews.

The $150 million financing appears to be the second largest investment in a venture-backed green-tech company this year, following electric car maker Better Place's $350 million round earlier this year.