California once jump-started the world’s Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and the rest of renewable energy industry in the ‘80s, but today, the state has earned the reputation of being the most difficult state to site, permit, and construct any type of renewable energy project in the country. Since the Mojave Desert in southeastern California ranks second only to Africa’s Sahara desert in terms of the premium solar resources necessary to support Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technologies, efforts to streamline government approvals in California carry major impacts on the global markets for parabolic trough, power tower, and Stirling engine CSP technologies.
Consider this startling fact: the cost of mitigating impacts on endangered desert tortoise populations in San Bernardino County (another hot spot for CSP and other renewables) can reach $1 million — per tortoise!
Unfortunately, power plant siting challenges could become more – rather than less – cumbersome with the recent introduction of desert protection legislation by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California). The proposed legislation would place more than a million acres of public land in the Mojave Desert off limits to CSP and other renewable energy resource development.
The good news is that one new CSP project – the 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System developed by BrightSource Energy – gained approval from the California Energy Commission (CEC) on March 17th. This CSP project – which deploys a new 459-foot tall “power towers” technology – would be the first new large scale solar thermal projects built in California in nearly two decades. The CEC environmental impact review took two-and-a-half years, a relatively short time considering that a few projects in the state have been involved in the permitting process for close to a decade. (Part of the urgency on behalf of this particular facility was a $1.37 billion loan guarantee from the federal Department of Energy that will expire if construction does not begin before the end of 2010.)
There are a few other signs of progress in the state’s efforts to have its investor-owned utilities to meet its targets of 20% renewable energy supply by 2010 and 33% by 2020. State regulators finally signed off on the construction of new transmission lines that can tap California’s world-class wind resource area in Kern County’s Tehachapi Mountains, which has the potential to add more than 5,000 MW of new wind power capacity to the state’s supply portfolio. Terra-Gen Power LLC, a wind power developer, also recently broke ground on a new wind farm in this last gigantic remaining wind resource area in California on private lands featuring 100 1.5 MW General Electric turbines. Ultimately, the project is to be built out to 800 MW.
In order to help break the permitting logjam for California’s renewable energy industry in southern California, Governor Schwarzenegger is hosting a series of meetings and events in the California desert this week. On March 24th, a conference entitled “Siting and Permitting Large-Scale Projects in the California Desert and Beyond,” is being held at UC Riverside.
For more information, visit the Governor’s Renewable Energy Policy Conference website at: http://gov.ca.gov/home/energy-conference