So Cal Edison and BrightSource Sign Huge 1.3GW Solar Deal


brightsourceimage1Despite the fact that solar thermal companies like Ausra are pulling back on the business model of “bigger is better” solar farms, massive solar deals are still being done. This morning utility Southern California Edison says it’s reached an agreement on “the world’s largest solar deal” with Oakland-based solar thermal startup BrightSource Energy. The deal is for 1.3 GW across seven projects, the first of which will be built in Ivanpah, Calif.

That massive size trumps the huge deal BrightSource already has with northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (s PCG) to build a potential 900MW of power from five large solar thermal plants. BrightSource is actually developing the plant in Ivanpah to accommodate 300 MW for its PG&E deal and another 100 MW for its SCE contract, says BrightSource’sPG&E’s Keely Wachs, senior director of corporate communications. In total, BrightSource has 4.2 GW of solar sites under development, Wachs says.

Of course, developing 4.2 GW of solar power in the deserts of California takes massive funds — the five plants with PG&E will cost on the order of $2-3 billion. The SCE deal will likely cost a bit more than that. And it’s certainly not a good time to raise project financing for solar plants. Reuters had reported that BrightSource hadn’t secured financing for its first plant for the deal with PG&E and was waiting for funds from the stimulus package before starting construction. The company has raised more than $160 million, including a massive $115 million Series C round announced in May. Investors include (s GOOG), BP Alternative Energy (s BP), StatoilHydro Venture, Black River, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley (s MS), DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Chevron Technology Ventures (s CVX).

Massive solar farms also take a long time to get regulatory approval. BrightSource had been facing possible regulatory delays for its first projects and had been attending hearings on how to streamline the approval process. The first plant in Ivanpah for SCE isn’t expected to be operating until early 2013.

But BrightSource’s contract with SCE shows the firm is still doing major deals while others are pulling back in this tough economic climate. BrightSource uses a central power tower design, which includes an array of mirrors that reflect the sun’s light onto a central receiver full of water, creating steam and powering a turbine.


Rudy Hernandez

I been doing electrical for 11yrs. I been laid off.
I was woundering if the company was hireing.I good send my resume if you requesded.


The construction loan for a concentrated solar farm is why the cost per kwh is about 11 cents. The actual costs of maintenance and operation are more like 2-4 cents. And you don’t run out of solar power! It’s renewable. And you can setup a solar power unit in your backyard! Try setting up a nuclear reactor in your backyard! This means distributed, non-centralized power – that is huge advantages. This is only the beginning. Until the nuclear lobby can reliably recycle waste form nuclear power plants, and do so safely, the waste issue will prevent the nuclear lobby from getting any traction. And clean-coal, noeone is going to buy it! People have smartened up, and they realize now that solar power and wind can compete, if we put our money where our hopes are.


Simon, I am a pro-nuke environmentalist and I would love to see nuke replace coal. Yes, you’re right, the capacities for wind and solar are often overstated. Kind of like that “highway” mpg rating on your car that you never really achieve. However, solar is a reasonably reliable power source for summer peaking loads, especially since these plants can include several hours worth of effective storage. The more of these solar plants are built, the more reliable and steady the overall generation becomes. Let’s roll. Bummer to wait until 2013. Unfortunately, I think your facts are wrong about nuke plants. A 2GW nuke plant, last I read, was priced at $12 billion and took at least a decade from permit approval to producing power. Talk about financing problems. The estimated costs for nuke plants have doubled in about the last two years. There is only one foundry in the world (in Japan) that can build the reactor vessels. I was unaware of Japan’s ability to build inexpensive nuke plants in only 3 years. Call me skeptical of that. And there’s this little problem of uranium mining and refueling costs/outages with nuclear. We basically can’t make the fuel rods in this country – they come from Areva in France and very quietly make their way across the US. I know what goes into a refueling outage; it’s a helluva lot of work just to make some electricity. Precisely zero power output from reactor for several weeks. Once a solar plant is built, the sun is free forever, and the solar plants run with little manpower. We already have smaller solar thermal plants that have proved their reliability. And, I don’t think the California taxpayers are heavily leveraged into this. More so the ratepayers, but $2 billion over several years ain’t that much in the California power market. OK, hike my bill by 10 cents per month for solar.

Part of the solar delay up to now is that the Bush BLM deliberately slow-tracked these permit evaluations in the California desert. Some of those permits have been under consideration for years now, with little action.

Simon McClusky

I am wondering why these solar thermal startups don’t go public to raise the $ necessary to scale for projects of this size. It seems at this point apart from Abengoa there are very few opportunities in the public market place to invest directly in any solar thermal companies.

kerry bradshaw

Ah, the fraud of claiming rated capacities, as is the case here. Perhaps those 4200 megawatts wouldn’t sound so impressive if the actualy power produced were quioted, which is the only statistic of interest.
We don’t really care how much power the sysem can produce at high noon on a cloudless day (and 30+ days a year in the desert are cloudy). I’d estimate
the true power generation number at closer to 1.5 to 2 GW, on average (which is NEVER published by either the companies nor the green media, which covers up such embarrassing stats). 1.5 to 2 GW isn’t very impressive, nor is it a reliable power source. It’s also a very expensive way to make relatively small amounts of electricity. The Japanese can build that much capacity with less than two nuclear plants, which last 3 times as long and cost
less to build and can be built in 3 years, not 11.
California continues to spend money it doesn’t have on really dumb projects. This is just another one.

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