A parcel of desert 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles is scheduled to be the site of the first new solar electric generating station in California in 20 years. The new Ivanpah Solar Power Complex, to be built by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, will consist of three plants with a total output of 400 megawatts(MW).
BrightSource’s Ivanpah plant will use hundreds of mirrors, known as heliostats, to track the desert sun, focusing the sun’s rays onto a boiler sitting atop a central tower. The boiler makes steam, which in turn powers a turbine to produce electricity. The company says the heliostat and tower are cheaper to build and easier to install and operate than the mirrored trough arrays most solar plants use. The plant will create 950 union construction jobs, 90 union permanent positions upon completion, and will supply enough electricity to power more than 250,000 homes.
Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, called the new plant “a great example of the new green economy – good union jobs building renewable generation plants.”
Essentially BrightSource is composed of the same management team that built California’s nine existing solar plants, which produce 350 MW of electricity and are still profitable. Their first company, Luz International, went bankrupt in the face of volatile fuel prices and inconsistent federal and state support for renewable energy in the 1970s and 1980s.
Interest in solar electricity took off in the 1970′s when consumers reeled from fuel price sticker shock as a result of the Arab Oil Embargo . Both the federal government and states – especially California – realized the benefits of non-polluting domestic energy and began offering tax incentives, spawning a fledgling industry.
However, when the price of gas went back down, signaling the end to the oil crisis, governments either abolished or let many clean energy incentives lapse. Luz failed after then-California Governor George Deukmejian vetoed property tax breaks for solar companies in the mid-1980s.
“Our time ran out. We declared bankruptcy, everyone went back to their lives and nothing got built for 20 years,” said Joshua Bar-Lev, vice president of regulatory affairs for BrightSource, who served as general counsel for Luz. “To create an industry you need predictability. You need to know what the tax policies are going to be.”
BrightSource counts on more consistent market signals this time. Both presidential candidates say they support investment in renewable energy sources, and both support action to curb global warming. Some 26 states mandate utilities to produce a percentage of electricity from renewable resources, like wind and solar. California requires that 20 percent of its electricity is renewable by 2010.
In April, BrightSource signed a power-purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric, and in May they raised $115 million in capital from a group of investors, which included Google.org and BP Alternative Energy. The company wants to break ground in 2009 and have the first 100 MW online in 2011.
Cassandra Stern, a former reporter for The Washington Post, is a contributor to the Apollo Alliance.
For More Information:
Web site: http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/
State Building and Construction Trades Council of California
Web site: http://www.sbctc.org/
California Unions for Reliable Energy
Web site: http://www.sbctc.org/cure/