BrightSource Brings In Massive $150M for Solar Thermal

BrightSource Energy, a developer of utility-scale solar thermal power plants that won a $1.37 billion federal loan guarantee this year, has raised $150 million in a fourth-round of equity financing. The massive new investment announced this morning puts it in a growing group of greentech startups that have raised more than $300 million.

According to BrightSource’s release today, the new funds will go toward BrightSource’s efforts to build 14 solar power plants in the southwest by 2016 — projects that are meant to fulfill 2,610 megawatts in contracts with California utilities Pacific Gas and Electric Company (s PCG) and Southern California Edison. BrightSource, based in Oakland, Calif., also plans to use some of the funds to support international expansion.

In a time when the feds are handing out loans and loan guarantees in the range of a billion dollars and up to support huge green energy and manufacturing projects, these massive funding rounds are becoming more common. For a guarantee like the one awarded to BrightSource on a conditional basis in February to be finalized, the recipient has to meet certain equity requirements. BrightSource’s $1.37 billion commitment from the Department of Energy is meant to support financing of the company’s Ivanpah solar project, which is set to be the first new solar thermal power plant built in California’s deserts in 20 years.

Loan guarantees can offer a real competitive edge for companies like BrightSource, typically enabling a company to finance projects with a better interest rate and at a lower cost than would otherwise be available to them. The guarantee serves essentially as promise by the government to back a loan if the company can’t make good on it.

BrightSource competes with other startups and big firms, including French nuclear giant Areva (which bought competitor Ausra earlier this year), Abengoa Solar, the solar arm of the decades-old Spanish renewable energy and engineering giant, eSolar, and Stirling Energy.

Led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Morgan Stanley and VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, this latest funding round for BrightSource also included new investors Alstom (a provider of equipment and services for power generation), and the California State Teachers Retirement System. Alstom, which plans to contribute $55 million in this round — its first investment in the solar market — said today it will become “one of the main shareholders” in BrightSource.

Alstom reportedly had been trying to buy up solar thermal competitor Solel, before Siemens did, so Alstom could end up being a potential acquirer of BrightSource. But BrightSource is also on the short list of potential greentech IPOs for 2010.

For more on greentech financing check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Cleantech Financing Trends: 2010 and Beyond

Image courtesy of BrightSource