FPL, Carlyle Group Purchase Mojave Solar Thermal Troughs

FPL Energy and affiliates of Carlyle/Riverstone have purchased ownership interest in the solar energy generation systems (SEGS) operating in the Mojave Desert. Power generated from the SEGS is under a 30-year power purchase agreements with Southern California Edison, and the total system is rated for an effective 141 MW of solar power generation in California.

FPL Energy will operate the plants and hold a 45 percent ownership interest in the projects. Carlyle/Riverstone, as co-general partner, will own a 49 percent interest in the projects with the remainder being held by a group of limited partners. The Carlyle Group is one of the world’s largest private equity firms, with more than US$18.9 billion under management. “The acquisition of the SEGS projects is a continuation of our strategy to own and operate high quality power generation facilities and further solidifies our position as the leader in clean, renewable energy generation,” said Jim Robo, president of FPL Energy. “With these new projects, we are now the largest generator of solar power in the U.S. with 310 MWs.” The companies purchased majority interest in five, 30 MW SEGS, which are currently managed by Kramer Junction in California and owned by Solel Solar Systems. SEGS are parabolic trough solar collectors that concentrate the sun’s energy on a pipe filled with synthetic oil, which is used to transfer the heat collected by the trough. The oil flows to heat exchangers where the heat turns water into steam, which is used to drive conventional steam turbine electric generators. The five plants were part of a 10-plant energy generation plan in California that was initiated by solar energy developer LUZ in the early 1980s. Luz went bankrupt in 1991 before completing the ninth project because of a combination of eroding renewable energy incentives and plummeting energy prices. Solel bought a majority of LUZ assets in 1992. Some of the LUZ employees who worked on the SEGs proejcts eventually went on to work at Solargenix Energy, (formerly Duke Solar) in the 1980s. Duke owned a SEGS built by Luz that is located in Eldorado Valley, Nevada. Solargenix has partnered with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the SEGS technology is expected to be a lead developer behind new solar themal trough projects slated for the Southwest. According to the Solel Web site, the company has made improvements to the Mojave Desert SEGS since 1985 when the five plants went online, and the plants should have another 15 years of working life before any upgrades or renovations to the technology are necessary. Michael Hoffman, a Carlyle/Riverstone Managing Director, said, “We are excited to begin our renewable power investment effort with the industry leader (FPL) as our partner and in what is a significant and growing market.”

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