K Road Gives Up on Calico Solar Project

Another massive solar energy project in California is being abandoned, with K Road asking the California Energy Commission to drop its permit and subsequent amendments for the 294-MW Calico Solar Project after three years and as many redevelopment efforts.

Calico, located 37 miles east of Barstow, California along Interstate 40, originally was approved and licensed by the CEC in late 2010 as a 850-MW project using solar thermal technology on about 4,100 acres, half its original proposed footprint of 8,200 acres. K Road had acquired the project earlier in the year from its original developer Tessera Solar, which had run into financial troubles; Southern California Edison had just cancelled its power purchase agreement at that point, which was in place since 2005.

In 2011 K Road scaled back and altered its Calico project plans, deciding to switch to mostly solar PV (563 MW vs. just 100 MW of Stirling engines). That required a new round of approvals and public input, which opened the door for environmental groups who opposed the project due to effects on local wildlife habitats. Shortly thereafter, in September 2011, the project’s solar thermal tech supplier Stirling Energy Systems (a sibling to Tessera) went bankrupt. Last summer K Road filed another petition to switch entirely to solar PV and reduce the projects size and footprint by another 16 percent to roughly 618 MW on 3,851 acres.

Then in December of last year, K Road notified the CEC that it was running into “transmission issues related to the CAISO,” which might require modifications to its Large Generator Interconnection Agreement and further delay the project’s progress. And finally, days ago, K Road filed a brief letter with the CEC, tersely citing “changed market conditions” (without clarifying) in its inability to move the project forward.

Due to its original CEC approval, Calico would have been grandfathered into recent land use policies restricting such solar development to identified “variance lands” and away from defined “exclusion zones” in that vicinity. But its cancellation now means the proposed lands where it was to be developed will now revert to the new rules, meaning no solar development at the proposed project site at all.

The Calico saga illustrates yet again the sufferings of proposed large-scale solar energy projects using solar thermal (or concentrated solar) technologies, which initially made economic sense but have became increasingly unrealistic as PV prices have plummeted. In the past few months NextEra has announced it will convert its 250-MW Beacon Solar project from parabolic trough to solar PV, and vastly scaled back its massive Blythe Solar Power Project in California, shrinking it by more than half to less than 500 MW as it shifts that project to solar PV technology as well. And earlier this year Brightsource pulled two projects off its table: Hidden Hills, a dual-250-MW CSP project, and the 500-MW Rio Mesa solar thermal project.

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