Revamped Palen solar project takes forward step at Calif. commission

The California Energy Commission said Sept. 11 that its staff has released its final environmental analysis concerning the licensing of the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System Project.

The final staff assessment (FSA), published Sept. 10, concluded that the proposed 500-MW solar thermal power tower project would have significant environmental impacts in the area of visual resources even with the implementation of staff’s recommended mitigation measures. The project would also not comply with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards (LORS) in the area of visual resources.

Commission staff also found that it is uncertain that recommended measures for avian species will mitigate the potential impacts to less than significant in the area of biological resources.

The FSA is being published in three parts. The cultural resources section, which is the second part, is scheduled to be published the week of Sept. 16. The third part will be the air quality/greenhouse gas section. That is expected to be filed 30 days after the commission receives a preliminary determination of compliance from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The FSA represents the commission staff’s independent assessment of the project’s potential impacts on the environment, public health and safety, and compliance with all LORS. The FSA provides the detailed environmental impact assessment required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

The document will serve as commission staff’s testimony at evidentiary hearings that will be held by a committee of two commissioners who are reviewing the project. The committee will issue a proposed decision based on evidence presented at the hearings. That proposed decision will be presented to the full commission for a final decision.

In December 2010, the commission approved the 500-MW Palen Solar Power Project that was to use parabolic trough technology. In December 2012, the new project owner filed an amendment with the commission requesting to change the technology from parabolic trough to solar power tower.

The applicant for the amended project, now known as the Palen Solar Electric Generating System, is Palen Solar Holdings LLC, a joint venture of BrightSource Energy and Abengoa.

The proposed project consists of two 250-MW solar plants. Each would have about 85,000 heliostats. Heliostats are elevated mirrors used to focus the sun’s rays on a solar receiver that produces 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 is located about 10 miles east of Desert Center, halfway between Indio and Blythe, in eastern Riverside County, Calif. It is located on public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is separately reviewing the project. BLM on July 26 issued for comment a draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Palen project.

If the commission approves the Palen amendment, construction is expected to last 33 months. The project owner has provided an estimated capital cost for construction of the project as $2bn.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.