Blog Post

PG&E, BrightSource Solar Deal Now World's Largest at 1,310 MW

BrightSourcePowerTowerHoly solar thermal deal — northern California utility PG&E says it has expanded its already huge purchase agreement with startup BrightSource from 900 MW of solar thermal power to a whopping 1,310 MW. That makes the deal “the largest solar deal in the world,” says BrightSource CEO John Woolard on PG&E’s blog. The previous world’s largest solar deal was a 1,300 megawatt deal between BrightSource and Southern California Edison. Can we say utility rivalry?

PG&E’s new deal is for a set of power purchase agreements for seven solar thermal projects that will be built in the Mojave desert of California (the previous deal was for five projects). Given that the previous 900 MW deal was estimated to cost $2-3 billion, the new deal has gotta cost a bit north of the original amount. PG&E says the first of the solar power plants — a 110 MW in Ivanpah, Calif. — will begin operating in 2012. That’s a bit behind schedule; last year PG&E and BrightSource said the first plant would come online in 2011. The regulatory process to get these projects approved has proven very slow.

Southern California Edison and PG&E will actually be sharing some space in the first solar project at Ivanpah. BrightSource’s Keely Wachs, senior director of corporate communication, told us in February that BrightSource is developing the plant in Ivanpah to accommodate 310 MW for its PG&E deal and another 100 MW for its SCE contract. Wachs tells us this morning that the two California utilities and their 2,610 MW solar deals represents more than 40 percent of the solar thermal contracts in the U.S., and BrightSource will be building 14 plants through 2017 to accommodate both of the contracts.

All of the deals are a huge win for Oakland, Calif.-based BrightSource. The startup 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. The company has raised more than $160 million, including a $115 million Series C round announced last May. Investors include, BP Alternative Energy, StatoilHydro Venture, Black River, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley, DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Chevron Technology Ventures.