California inches closer to decision on 500-MW Rio Mesa solar project

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is moving closer to a license decision on BrightSource Energy’s $2bn, 500-MW Rio Mesa solar generating project.

The Rio Mesa project would be located on the Palo Verde Mesa in Riverside County, about 13 miles southwest of Blythe. The 3,805-acre site would be located on land leased from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The CEC will hold a workshop Nov. 28 at Palo Verde Community College in Blythe to discuss commission staff’s preliminary staff assessment (PSA). The focus of the workshop will be cultural resources, but other areas or issues associated with the review of the project may be discussed, according to a CEC news release.

After a public comment period on the PSA, the commission staff will release a final staff assessment (FSA). The FSA will serve as staff’s testimony at evidentiary hearings conducted by the committee of two commissioners reviewing the proposed project. The committee will issue a proposed decision based on evidence presented at the hearings. The proposed decision will be presented to the full commission for a final decision.

The first part of the proposed decision was published Sept. 28 and the second part was released Oct. 15.

The PSA is the commission staff’s initial evaluation of the environmental, engineering, public health, and safety impacts of the proposed facility.

The Rio Mesa project consists of two 250-MW solar plants. Each plant would have about 85,000 heliostats – elevated mirrors used to focus the sun’s rays on a solar receiver – that produce steam to generate electricity. The solar receiver would be located atop a 750-foot tall power tower near the center of each solar field.

The project was submitted to the CEC in October 2011 as a 750-MW project. The site was proposed on approximately 5,750 acres located partially on leased land and partially on public land administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

In July 2012, BrightSource filed an amended application for certification that removed the northernmost 250-MW power plant that would have been on BLM land. The company made the change in response to issues raised during the early review process including cultural resources, biological resources, and transmission corridor conflict concerns from BLM.

BrightSource hopes to start commercial operation of Rio Mesa by 2016. Rio Mesa is expected to create more than 1,700 construction jobs at the peak of construction and approximately 100 operations and maintenance jobs.

BrightSource, Google and an NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) subsidiary are also involved in the Ivanpah solar project in California’s Mojave Desert.

Meanwhile, California-based BrightSource said Nov 19 that a joint venture with Alstom has won a bid to construct a 121-MW solar thermal power project in Israel.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.