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BrightSource Shelves Another Major CSP Project

BrightSource has cancelled the proposed Hidden Hills concentrated solar power (CSP) plants in California's Inyo County, saying proposed changes to the site's configuration would require numerous revisions and re-analyses, and even more delays and uncertainty.

Back in January BrightSource similarly mothballed its Rio Mesa solar thermal project.

The request to indefinitely suspend the Hidden Hills system was filed with the California Energy Commission, though BrightSource noted it plans to continue evaluating the project and is keeping the door open to establish a new schedule at some point down the road. A power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Energy (PG&E) has subsequently also been mutually terminated.

The proposed Hidden Hills encompasses two 250-MW (nominal) solar power plants, on nearly 3,300 acres in the Pahrump Valley straddling California/Nevada about 45 miles west of Las Vegas. It was to incorporate BrightSource's proprietary Luz Power Tower (LPT) system, in which 340,000 software-controlled mirrors track and reflect sunlight to boilers atop two 750-foot towers. It was expected to begin construction this year, and be completed and operational in 2015.

Rio Mesa already was being designed with an energy storage capability (molten salt), a "unique attribute" that the CEC acknowledged in approving its otherwise uninspiring PPA contract last fall. Adding storage to Hidden Hills, though, would require adjustments to the project's configuration, from a new layout to storage equipment and reconfiguration of power blocks, necessitating amended permit applications and reopening project reviews, according to Keely Wachs, senior director of corporate communications, in an e-mailed correspondence. With the CEC already preparing its analysis of the project's current configuration, plus uncertainty about the project's schedule and certain required transmission upgrades, suspending the application now "avoids unnecessary time and expense on the part of all parties in the permitting process," she said. (The CEC has also expressed concerns about the project's "significant and unavoidable" impacts to cultural resources as well as to avian wildlife.)

As it did with the Rio Mesa announcement, BrightSource emphasizes that its focus and efforts are being channeled into its Palen project, a dual 250-MW installation in Riverside County, Calif. By comparison to these other projects, Palen (acquired from bankrupt Solar Millennium in August 2012) already has a CEC final decision for construction and operation, completed environmental review (NEPA) and "was very close" to receiving a BLM Right of Way Grant in 2010. Switching Palen's design from parabolic trough technology to BrightSource's power towers has significantly improved its footprint, land disruption, and water usage, and eliminated the need to relocate an existing SCE 161 kV transmission line.

With Rio Mesa and now Hidden Hills going dark, BrightSource has pulled 1 GW of large-scale CSP off the table in just three months. Its project pipeline is whittled down to Palen and the under-construction Ivanpah (377 MW). BrightSource also has two smaller projects, Coalinga (29 MW at a Chevron oil field) and the 6-MW SEDC demo site in Israel.

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