California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approves BrightSource Energy contracts

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Following the approval of the companies’ first two contracts with PG&E in August, the CPUC has now approved all 1,310 MW of contracts between BrightSource and PG&E

The first of these solar thermal power plants, sized at 110 MW and located in Ivanpah, California, is contracted to begin operation in 2012. Brightsource recently said it had selected Bechtel, the engineering, construction and project management firm, as the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for the Ivanpah Solar Electricity Generating System.

The two companies also announced that Bechtel Enterprises, the project development and financing arm of the Bechtel organisation, will become an equity investor in all of the Ivanpah solar power plants. These 7 projects are expected to produce a total of 3666 GWh of solar thermal power each year.

John Woolard, BrightSource Energy’s president and ceo issued the following statement in response to the CPUC’s contracts approval, “the CPUC’s approval of all of our Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) contracts marks a key milestone as we progress towards constructing California’s first large-scale solar projects in decades”.

Under the terms of a series of EPC agreements, Bechtel will provide engineering, procurement, and construction services for the Ivanpah System – a 440 MW solar power facility consisting of three separate solar thermal power plants in southeastern California. The power generated from these solar plants will be sold under separate contracts established by BrightSource Energy with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). BrightSource’s contracts with PG&E and SCE total 2.6 GW.

The Ivanpah facility will use BrightSource Energy’s Luz Power Tower 550 technology (LPT 550). The LPT 550 solar system produces electricity the same way as traditional power plants – by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. BrightSource uses thousands of mirrors called heliostats to reflect sunlight onto a boiler filled with water that sits atop a tower. When the sunlight hits the boiler, the water inside is heated and creates high temperature steam. The steam is then piped to a conventional turbine which generates electricity.

According to Brightsource, this approach takes advantage of high operating efficiencies and low capital costs to provide reliable and low-cost carbon-free energy: “The LPT 550 solar system is designed to minimise the solar plant’s environmental impact, reducing the need for extensive land grading and concrete pads. In order to conserve desert water, LPT 550 uses air-cooling to convert the steam back into water, resulting in a 90% reduction in water usage compared to conventional wet-cooling. The water is then returned to the boiler in an environmentally-friendly closed process”.

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