Palen moves forward, with Energy Commission staff requesting more information

The California Energy Commission released its preliminary staff assessment for the massive Palen solar power plant in Riverside County Friday. The document lists areas in which Energy Commission staff feel the proposed project is in compliance with laws, ordinances and regulations and areas where more information is needed.

Palen is a proposed 500 megawatt solar thermal power plant being jointly developed by BrightSource Energy and Abengoa. The staff report says that nine technical issues with significant impacts remain, including air quality and greenhouse gases, biological resources, cultural resources,  geology and paleontology,  socio-economics, traffic and transportation, visual resources, waste management and worker safety and fire protection.

Two other BrightSource projects — the proposed Rio Mesa solar plant in Riverside and Hidden Hills in Inyo County — were effectively mothballed due to permitting issues. Between now and 2016, BrightSource’s only project in California is Palen. The company’s Ivanpah project is nearing completion.

The PSA serves as the staff’s initial evaluation of the environmental, engineering, public health and safety impacts of the proposed facility. The PSA is not a decision; a final staff assessment comes after public hearings, and then a proposed decision is presented to the full Commission for a vote.

Palen would consist of two 250-MW solar plants for a total of 500 MW. Each plant would have about 85,000 heliostats to focus the sun’s rays on a solar receiver that would be located atop a 750-foot tall power tower. The cost of constructing the project is roughly $2 billion. The project needs to be online and generating power by 2016 in order to qualify for the solar Investment Tax Credit.

Last month, BrightSource’s longtime CEO John Woolard announced he was stepping down. The privately-held company is also pivoting from being primarily a developer of California-based projects to a solar thermal technology provider in partnership with much larger international companies such as Alstom and Abengoa.

Dana Hull Dana Hull (208 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.