BrightSource Energy pulls the plug on Rio Mesa

Oakland-based BrightSource Energy has suspended work on Rio Mesa, a proposed 500 MW solar thermal power plant in Riverside. The decision to put Rio Mesa “on hold ” was first reported this weekend by K. Kaufmann of the Desert Sun. (Nice scoop!)

BrightSource’s flagship solar thermal project is Ivanpah, currently under construction in California’s Mojave Desert. But the company has often pointed to other projects in its development pipeline, including Rio Mesa, Hidden Hills   and Palen, which it purchased as part of Solar Trust’s bankruptcy auction.

BrightSource said Rio Mesa, which was to begin construction in 2013, was put on hold because the permitting wasn’t going to get finished in time to honor existing power purchase agreements with Southern California Edison.

“When we looked at our schedule and resources we didn’t think Rio Mesa would be permitted in time to match our PPAs,” said BrightSource spokesman Keely Wachs Monday. “We decided to focus our corporate resources on other sites.”

The California Energy Commission has a treasure trove of documents about Rio Mesa on its website and confirmed Monday that BrightSource has formally filed a suspension request.

Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said that Rio Mesa had its share of issues with regards to endangered and threatened species. The proposed site is close to the Colorado River, a major flyway for migratory birds.

“There were concerns the birds would fly into the towers, fly into the mirrors,” said Anderson. “There were concerns about Golden Eagles.”

Rio Mesa was to consist of two 250-MW solar plants  in Riverside County, about 13 miles southwest of Blythe. BrightSource had a contract with Southern California Edison to buy 250 megawatts of electricity from Hidden Hills; that contract has been terminated.

Wachs said that Ivanpah’s Unit 1 should come online by the end of June.  Palen is now the priority after Ivanpah, and BrightSource has gotten permission from the Israeli government to work on a 121 MW project there. (Now it needs to find partners to help finance it. Your move, Warren Buffet!)





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