BrightSource’s Hidden Hills passes initial test

A 500-MW concentrating solar power (CSP) plant in California passed its first test from the staff of the state’s energy commission with a preliminary analysis of the proposed Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System project.

San Francisco-based BrightSource Energy proposes to build the project, which will provide power to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) under two power purchase agreements approved by the California PUC in 2010. The utility customer is part of PG&E (NYSE: PCG).

In the preliminary staff assessment (PSA), California Energy Commission staff concluded, in all but six technical sections, with the implementation of recommended mitigation measures described in the conditions of certification, the proposed 500-MW solar thermal power project would comply with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards (LORS) and that environmental impacts would be less than significant.

The six technical areas with either a significant or unmitigated impact would need to be resolved through additional data, further discussion and/or analysis are: biological resources, land use, socioeconomics, worker safety/fire protection, transmission system engineering, and visual resources. The cultural resources section will be in a supplemental staff assessment that is scheduled to be filed on or before June 15.

The PSA serves as the staff’s initial evaluation of the environmental, engineering, public health and safety impacts of the proposed facility. The PSA is not a decision nor does it reflect commission finding on environmental impacts or compliance with local, state and federal legal requirements.

A comment period on the PSA, which will include two workshops scheduled for next month, staff will release a final staff assessment (FSA).

Hidden Hills Solar Holdings, LLC, is a subsidiary of BrightSource Energy, Inc. The proposed project consists of two 250-MW solar thermal power plants. Each plant would use about 85,000 heliostats guided by a tracking system to focus the sun’s rays on a solar receiver that produces steam to generate electricity. The solar receiver is located atop a 750-foot tall solar power tower near the center of each solar field.

The project would be located on 3,277 acres of private land leased in Inyo County next to the Nevada border.

The capital cost for the project is estimated to be $2.7bn. If the project is approved, construction would be completed by the third or fourth quarter of 2015. Commercial operation of the first solar plant would begin the third quarter of 2015, with the second solar plant starting operation in the fourth quarter of 2015.

BrightSource’s 370-MW Ivanpah project is now under construction and scheduled for completion in 2013. Its investment partners include NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).