Blog Post

7 Solar Farms Coming Soon to the Southwest Deserts

A whole lot has changed since we wrote this story three years ago, covering solar farms that were going under construction in the deserts of California and Arizona. On the one hand, there’s been solar contracts revoked, companies sold, and money lost — on the other hand there’s been a bunch of companies that have finally gotten state and federal permits to build plants, and one company in particular that is planning an IPO (duh, BrightSource).

Here’s our update on utility scale solar farms — both solar thermal and solar PV — that are moving forward in the deserts of the Southwest.

1). BrightSource’s Ivanpah: The pioneer of the next-gen solar farms that are being built in the Mojave is BrightSource’s Ivanpah project. Ivanpah was one of the first plants to get state and federal permits, and was one of the few to receive a federal Department of Energy loan guarantee. The 392 MW plant went under construction in October and is supposed to be completed by 2013, and will sell solar power to Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

Ivanpah has $598 million of commitments for Ivanpah, including $300 million from NRG Solar, $168 million from Google (s GOOG) and $130 million from BrightSource. BrightSource is also building Ivanpah with a $1.6 billion loan guarantee, and plans to raise $250 million in an IPO.

The project is made up of three power plants and will be built in three phases. Phase 1 is under development now, while phases 2 and 3 are now suspended because of the discovery of more desert tortoises than previously expected. The technology used is next-generation solar power tower technology, that places mirrors around a centralized tower.

2). Solana: Over in Arizona, one of the most well-known solar thermal projects is Solana, which is a 280 MW solar farm being built by the solar arm of Spanish construction and engineering firm Abengoa, Abengoa Solar. The Department of Energy awarded a $1.45 billion guarantee to Abengoa Solar to build Solana and Arizona utility APS will buy the power from the project.

Fred Morse, U.S. senior adviser to Abengoa Solar, told me last year (just months before the guarantee was announced) that Abengoa had “completed the permitting,” “gotten the transmission link ready,” and had just started “on financing the project.” Solana, which is supposed to be ready in 2013, is meant to create 1,600 jobs in Arizona, and over 70 percent of the solar components are estimated to be made in the U.S. Abengoa will be using the more traditional solar thermal trough technology for Solana.

3). Beacon Solar Energy Project: Beacon Solar, a subsidiary of Florida power company NextEra Energy, is building the 250 MW Beacon Solar Energy project on 2,012-acres in Kern County, Calif. NextEra is using more traditional solar trough technology, which it has already used for one of its older solar projects in the Mojave. The proposed grid connection will occur at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Barren Ridge Substation.

Originally Beacon Solar was supposed to start commercial operation of the project by the third quarter of 2011, but now it looks like that will happen 30 months after it received the CEC approval. The project was approved by the California Energy Commission in November of 2010, so don’t expect this project to produce power until 2013.

4). Genesis Solar: Another Next-Era Energy project. The California Energy Commission approved the 250 MW Genesis Solar Energy project in September 2010, which will be built by Genesis Solar, a subsidiary of Next-Era. Genesis will be built in Riverside County, Calif., which is 25 miles west of the city of Blythe, Calif., on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The BLM approved the project late last year.

5). Blythe Solar Power Project: The Blythe Solar Power Project, to be built by Solar Trust of America, is set to be the largest solar project in the world when built, with four solar thermal plants of 250 MW each, delivering 1 GW collectively. The DOE offered the largest loan guarantee for a clean power project to date — a whopping $2.1 billion — to build the first two sections of Blythe. Southern California Edison will buy 484 MW of the solar power.

Solar Trust America is a joint venture between German firms Solar Millennium and Ferrostaal. The group already started preliminary construction of the project last fall by putting in an access road and some water supply infrastructure and the company plans to start building the project in earnest in late spring or early summer. The first half of the solar farm will cost an estimated $2.8 billion, and Solar Trust expects to start building the second half of the power plant within two years. Solar Trust plans to use its trough collectors for the solar farm and the power plant will reside on 9,400 acres in Riverside County and cost more than $5 billion.

6). California Valley Solar Ranch Farm: Unlike the previous projects listed, the California Valley Solar Ranch Farm is a solar panel project (ground mounted PV), being built by SunPower (s SPWRA) and owned by NRG Energy (s NRG). NRG Energy bought the 250 MW solar farm in San Luis Obispo County in late-November 2010 and the farm is supposed to go under construction in the second half of 2011, and start delivering power by the end of 2011, with final completion by 2013. Utility Pacific Gas and Electric already has already signed a 25-year agreement to buy the electricity from the power plant.

The project received a conditional commitment for a $1.2 billion loan guarantee last month. NRG said it planned to spend up to $450 million in equity over four years on the project.

7). Agua Caliente Solar: And, yet another solar project with a DOE loan guarantee. The Agua Caliente Solar project is a 290-MW, photovoltaic solar project that will be built in Yuma County, Ariz., and which NRG Energy plans to buy from First Solar (s FSLR). The DOE has backed the project with a $967 million loan guarantee.

The Agua Caliente project is set for completion in 2014 and is supposed to create 400 construction jobs. Northern California utility PG&E plans to buy the electricity from the project. NRG plans to invest up to $800 million in equity in the project, and the deal between First Solar and NRG requires that First Solar installs, operates and maintains the project.

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