World's largest solar thermal plant comes on line near state line
Feb 3, 2014 - Jim Steinberg - The Sun
NIPTON >> The world’s largest solar thermal electric plant has begun operating its three generating units, which will soon deliver enough clean energy to power more than 140,000 homes in Northern and Southern California, officials said.
“When this project comes fully online, California will become home to the largest solar thermal electric project in the world, creating stable jobs in a rural community and helping us to meet our goal in curbing the effects of climate change with renewable electricity,” said Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission.
Power companies are motivated to buy renewable energy because California has mandated that renewable resources account for 33 percent of their generation by the end of 2020.
Solar thermal electric technology uses reflectors to magnify the sun’s rays to create steam for electrical generation. The privately funded project, costing more than $2 billion, is owned by NRG Energy and NRG Solar, the plant operator, BrightSource Energy Inc., and Google Inc. It was built by Bechtel.
The Ivanpah site in the Mojave Desert, near the California-Nevada state line, spans 3,500 acres and contains 347,000 sun-facing mirrors called heliostats.
Three units produce a gross output of 392 megawatts, with San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co. taking the 259 megawatts produced by units 1 and 2 and Rosemead-based Southern California Edison Co., taking the output of unit 3, 133 megawatts, said Jeff Holland, spokesman for NRG Solar.
The project is indeed massive, but with it has come scrutiny in a county where environmental concerns have emerged.
“The BrightSource solar project is undoubtedly a technological marvel that will catch the eyes of travelers on I-15,” San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janice Rutherford said. “It also demonstrated some of the issues these large-scale solar projects will face when they want to locate in our desert, including impacts on birds, desert tortoises and the desert environment as a whole.”
Others have touted the project as an example of the potential of San Bernardino County to lead the way on solar power.
Robert Lovingood, 1st District supervisor, said that San Bernardino County is showing its leadership in solar power.
“We have 360 days of sunshine. We can turn out the power,” he said.
And power is at a premium these days.
“In light of the San Onofre retirement, the solar plant is an important addition in helping to enhance the grid in Southern California,” said Steven Greenlee, senior public information officer with the California Independent System Operator Corp. a nonprofit public benefit corporation that operates high-voltage power lines in California, provides transmission services, procures electrical reserves and manages grid congestion.
The San Onofre nuclear power plant once produced enough electricity to support 1.4 million Southern California homes.
“Particularly with the drought, hydro power production is down and there needs to be more solar power,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Sacramento-based Coalition for Clean Air.
In addition to large centralized plants like Ivanpah, Magavern said there needs to be more distributed generation, solar power generated from rooftop plants, for example.
Owners of the Ivanpah Solar Power Plant are holding a dedication celebration on the site and in Las Vegas on Feb. 13, which will draw United States Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz as the keynote speaker.