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A Sneak Peek at “World’s Biggest” Solar Project

Gretchen Weber

Construction of one of three planned solar thermal towers at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, Ivanpah Dry Lake, CA

Construction of the Ivanpah site is reportedly on-schedule for completion in 2013

The National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 opens in Las Vegas on Tuesday, bringing policy makers and industry leaders from around the country together to “chart the course for the future of energy in America.” It’s also attracting lots of media, which is why on Monday Oakland-based BrightSource Energy opened the gates to the construction site of its 3,500 acre Ivanpah Solar Complex, which lies just over the California border, 45 minutes southwest of the Las Vegas Strip.

About 15 reporters donned hard hats and safety goggles in 100-plus temperatures to tour the active construction site in the Mojave Desert, along with officials from BrightSource, San Francisco-based construction company Bechtel Corp., and NRG Energy, which, along with Google, is the project’s main investor. Continue reading

Protesters Shell Mojave Solar Plant

Oakland’s BrightSource Energy and Environmentalists throw down over a threatened tortoise

What some have billed as the world’s largest solar project in the Mojave came under fire again today. This time a baby desert tortoise led the charge with a cohort of environmentalists. While the tortoise provided a slow-motion picket around downtown Oakland, protestors lined up in front of BrightSource Energy’s corporate headquarters, determined to preserve the Mojave desert and keep solar projects local.

A baby desert tortoise stakes out a position outside BrightSource Energy headquarters in Oakland. (Photo: Chris Penalosa)

At risk of habitat loss from the project, the tortoise is becoming the iconic image for preservation of the Mojave. The Bureau of Land Management put the brakes on two-thirds of the Ivanpah solar farm when field biologists found more tortoises than initially expected. Tortoises found on site are being relocated and fenced off, preventing their gradual return. Continue reading

Speed Bump for Big SoCal Solar Project

It had been a good month for BrightSource Energy, the Oakland-based company that’s building the massive Ivanpah solar farm in the Mojave Desert.

Google announced it would invest $168 million in the project. The Department of Energy announced $1.6 billion loan guarantee. And on Friday, the company announced it plans to go public with a $250 million initial public offering. But a recurring issue has popped up: the desert tortoise.

A Mojave desert tortoise. (Image: USGS)

“It’s an endangered species. No project that is sited out there in within their habitat can negatively impact the population,” says Erin Curtis, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management. As anyone following the battles over solar farms knows, prime desert tortoise habitat also happens to be prime solar territory and has been targeted by a number of proposed solar farms.

BrightSource Energy agreed to mitigate the impacts their solar farm would have on the tortoises by capturing and relocating them to new habitat. Fences are being constructed to prevent the tortoises from returning. Continue reading

Climate News that Went By in a Blur

Some of the week’s energy, climate, and emissions developments in California, that may have been overshadowed by other news:

Largest Solar-Thermal Project Breaks Ground
Officials broke ground on the first large-scale solar-thermal plant to be built in the United States in 20 years. BrightSource Energy says its $2 billion, 10,000-MW Ivanpah project, located in the Mojave Desert, will be the largest solar thermal project in the world.  (More from KQED’s The California Report and The New York Times)

Prop. 23 Funding
Opponents of Proposition 23 have contributed three times as much money to the campaign as those in favor of the measure that would suspend California’s climate change legislation.  As of October 29, the “No” campaign had raised more than $30 million, while the “Yes” campaign had raised just over $10 million, mostly from out-of-state oil refiners Valero and Tesoro.  (More from maplight.org, and to see where across the US the money is coming from, check out Climate Watch‘s interactive map that tracks the major funders.) Continue reading

California: The “Solar Saudi Arabia”

At solar-thermal plants, mirrors concentrate solar energy on a central tower, where steam is generated to run turbines. (Image: BrightSource Energy)

Prepare for a solar building boom in the deserts of Southern California. After spending years in the environmental review process and clearing other bureaucratic hurdles, approvals for clean energy producers are picking up steam.

State regulators have now given the green light to four major solar power projects in as many weeks. The most recent was on Wednesday, when the California Energy Commission gave the nod to a 370-megawatt solar-thermal array known as the Ivanpah project (the CEC does not have authority over photovoltaic or “PV” solar arrays). Developed by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy and built by Bechtel Corp., it will consume more than 3,500 acres near the California-Nevada border, in the northern Mojave Desert. Continue reading

The Biggest Solar Project in the World

It’s just outside Phoenix. No, it’s in the Mojave. Wait, no, it’s in San Benito County.

A solar-thermal array uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight. (Image: BrightSource Energy)

On a media call this week in which executives and investors from the solar industry stumped for extensions to key federal incentives, I heard Fred Morse of Abengoa Solar say that the company’s Solana project in Gila Bend, Arizona, will be, as described on the project website, “the world’s largest solar plant.” Later that same day, an email came in from Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, (not in response) touting its Ivanpah project as “the largest solar project in the world.” Similar terms have been used to describe Solargen’s proposed 4,700-acre photovoltaic array in San Benito County. Continue reading