Ausra Turns On Solar Thermal Power Plant

Ausra, the posterchild for the next generation of utility-scale solar thermal plants, has turned on its first solar project dubbed the Kimberlina Solar Thermal Energy Plant in Bakersfield, Calif. The 5 MW plant will provide the equivalent power for 3,500 homes, and the company describes it as “the first solar thermal power plant of any type built in California in nearly 20 years.” The company officially launched the plant at an event attended by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and PG&E CEO Peter Darbee.

As Ausra’s chief commercial officer, Glen Davis told us earlier this month, Kimberlina will eventually have four lines of solar thermal equipment installed that will include the companies latest developments for its receivers, mirror design and accompanying support structures. Ausra is using Linear Fresnel technology, which is more advanced than the decades old solar “trough” technology that uses trough-shaped mirrors to focus light to heat up liquid and power a steam turbine. Solar startup SkyFuel is using the same technology for its next-generation solar hardware, but that won’t be available for several years.

Ausra’s Kimberlina is important in that it is the proving ground for the technology that the company will use for its 177-megawatt power plant in central California, which the company calls its Carrizo Plains solar power plant. That project is expected to produce enough electricity for 120,000 homes, and California utility PG&E plans to buy that power. Davis told us that the company plans to raise project financing to build the Carrizo Plains plant, which could cost between $600 million and $800 million. Ausra could theoretically start construction on that plant in the second half of next year and have it producing power 12 to 15 months later, depending on the financial markets.