The death blow for Palen? California rejects BrightSource Energy’s Palen plans

BrightSource Energy’s flagship Ivanpah project, in the Mojave desert, is near completion. But Palen, the only project in the company’s dwindling California pipeline, may be on its deathbed.

BrightSource hoped to convince state regulators with the California Energy Commission to allow it to move forward with Palen, a proposed 500 megawatt solar thermal power plant being jointly developed with Abengoa. But in a thousand-page long proposed decision released late Friday,  CEC staff rejected the Palen plans due to the potential for bird deaths from intense radiation, or solar flux, from the thousands of mirrors, or heliostats. The Desert Sun has followed this story closely, as has Chris Clarke at KCET.

“The committee finds that the amended project will also result in significant and unmitigable impacts to biological resources due to the risk of solar flux on avian species,” read the CEC staff report.  “The committee recommends denying the project amendment at this time, finding that the totality of the project impacts outweighs the totality of the project benefits.”

Palen was originally approved in 2010 as a parabolic-trough CSP plant developed by a subsidiary of Germany’s Solar Millennium. When Solar Millennium went bankrupt, BrightSource acquired Palen. In 2012, BrightSource asked the state for permission to change the technology to two 250-megawatt power towers and 170,000 heliostats.

Unlike the photovoltaic solar panels that are common on the roofs of homes and commercial buildings, solar thermal technology concentrates the sun’s rays to boil water and generate steam. Solar thermal, also known as concentrating solar power, or CSP, is land-intensive, requires access to transmission lines and typically faces several environmental reviews and permitting hurdles before projects can be built in the desert. BrightSource’s Ivanpah project faced several concerns about its impact on the desert tortoise, but as the project comes online the impact on birds – who have flown into the heliostats or been singed due to solar flux –  has become an even bigger issue.

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.

BrightSource didn’t have much in the way of comment Monday.

“We are currently reviewing the more than 1,000 page PMPD on Palen that was issued late on Friday,” said Joseph Desmond, BrightSource’s senior vice president for marketing and public affairs, in a statement. “Until that review is complete, we will not be providing additional comment.”

A rendering of the proposed Palen project.



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    This is STUPID ! If we cancel clean energy projects like this one, and have to rely on fossil fuels for electricity, the resulting climate change will kill WAY more wildlife in the long run ! Hey ! You guys eat cooked turkey over the holidays ? BBQ chicken at picnics ? Get over it and APPROVE THIS PROJECT NOW !

    • SharkMan2006

      “Clean energy.” HAHAHAHA Do you realize how much land is razed, plants ripped up, and water and soil contamination occurs during the construction and operation of one of these “clean energy” plants? I was reading a proposal document for a solar-trough plant that was submitted to the CEC back in 2009. The document estimated that they would *average* 740 cubic yards of contaminated soil annually over the 25 year operational lifespan of the project. This is soil contaminated with a synthetic oil that turns into benzene once it gets into water, which is a major carcinogen that is regulated to the parts per *billion* range in drinking water due to its toxicity. And the contaminated soil can be treated as non-hazardous waste if it has a concentration of up to 10,000 mg/kg of this oil. Oh, and did I mention that the cost of the power will be about twice as much per kWh?

      • AegysLTS

        Sadly..this is true with PV panels as well, I don’t have the technical details but the material used in the chemistry for PV compound are known to be toxic. In the end nuclear didn’t seem so bad after all….

      • Okc Dave

        How much razed land and ripped up plants? Practically none, it’s the desert. That also greatly limits how much would get into water. They could simply use another type of oil.

        Yes it will cost more per KWH but every new solution does. That’s why we keep burning coal, gas, and oil which aren’t exactly non-polluting either.

        I’m for nuclear power personally but that also has to be put *somewhere*. Might be that the desert is a good place for that too.

  • Andy Bochman

    Concur with Mr. Limo.

  • Kelly Bradley

    Domestic House Cats kill 3.7 Billion Birds a year in the US . (google it) .How many birds were injured or killed 20 /30 . Incredible. Here in California , we are are extremely proficient in making sure things don’t get done. Food for thought.

  • AegysLTS

    They shutdown SONGS not too long ago and now they scrapped a solar power plant….maybe they are happy pumping more CO2 to the air….