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Five solar plants scheduled to come on line

Aug 3, 2007 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Tatiana Prophet Daily Press

Victorville, Calif. Every couple years or so, someone announces the "world's largest solar plant" for the Mojave Desert, where clouds rarely block the sun.

Right now, five of them are scheduled to come on line in the next couple years.

Why, then, is Victorville moving forward with a large natural gas-fired plant that has a small solar component?

The main reason is efficiency, said Tom Barnett, executive vice president of Newport Beachbased Inland Energy Inc., the city's private development partner.

"It will make the overall economics much better and helps the efficiency of the gas plant to do it that way," he said.

For Barnett, the sun's energy can be used only when the sun is shining, so having a natural gas plant gives the entire project consistency and reliability.

To keep the plant efficient, the solar-thermal technology will be using the same steam turbine as the natural gasfueled generator, cutting down the need for two steam turbines.

The 563-megawatt plant will supply enough power to several hundred thousand homes, most likely in Southern California.

Up until now, large-scale solar power projects have mostly remained ideas on a drawing board -- so anything greater than 310 megawatts is the world's largest.

The maximum amount currently operating is 310 megawatts, held by titleholder Florida Power and Light, which owns a pair of power plants built in the 1970s at Kramer Junction and Harper Dry Lake.

Plans continue to be announced, as evidenced by an Israeli company's announcement late last month, that they would be building the "largest solar plant in the world" at 533 megawatts.

Judging from a list of plants announced to the California Energy Commission, many of them are still moving forward, if a little bit behind schedule.

Victorville 2 is ahead of all of them, but still has some hurdles to leap involving the transfer of emissions credits from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Other projects include Stirling Solar Thermal One and Two, planned by Stirling Energy Systems, an Arizona-based company that announced an agreement in 2005 with Southern California Edison, originally indicated it would break ground in late 2007.

Attempts to reach Stirling were unsuccessful, but according to Edison spokesman Paul Klein, the agreement is still in effect.

The challenges to building large-scale solar plants are the need for massive amounts of land and the fact that energy cannot be stored for very long.

Barnett said he welcomed the large-scale solar projects, adding that the Victorville 2 project is only the beginning in renewable technology.

"We didn't feel like we wanted to push the edge of the envelope on the plant's performance parameters," he said. "If it works well, then the next system can be designed to take a little bit more."

Tatiana Prophet may be reached at 951-6222 or at


Updated: 2003/07/28