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BrightSource Energy plans 3rd massive solar farm

BrightSource Energy is still building its first solar farm, but the company already is steaming ahead with development work for an 810 MW project called Rio Mesa, for which the company said Friday it has applied for approval from the California Energy Commission.

Rio Mesa, to be located in Southern California’s Riverside County, will include three solar fields on a total of 5,750 acres. Each solar field will have 270 MW of capacity, but BrightSource expects to ship 250 MW to the customer and use the rest onsite. The project will be located partly on land owned by the Metropolitan Water District and on land managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management. BrightSource will need a permit from BLM before it can start construction.

Interestingly, the company declined to disclose the customer for Rio Mesa but it’s either of the two California utilities, PG&E (s PGC) and Southern California Edison (s EIX), for which BrightSource has signed agreements to sell a total of 2.6 GW.

Rio Mesa is the third solar farm for BrightSource, which began building its first, 392 MW Ivanpah project in California’s Mojave Desert last October. The company plans to deliver 370 MW from Ivanpah to PG&E and Edison, with the remainder to be used on site.

In August this year, the company filed an application for approval from the California Energy Commission for the 540 MW Hidden Hills project in Inyo County. Of the 540MW, 500 MW will go to PG&E and the rest to be used onsite.

Both Hidden Hills and Rio Mesa will use a new technology developed by BrightSource that promises to use land more efficiently and minimize shading that can curb power generation. The company’s core technology uses flat mirrors to concentrate the sunlight onto a water-filled boiler atop of a tower for steam production. The steam then goes to a turbine generator to produce electricity. The tower in the new design is 750 feet. The older design, for Ivanpah, is 459 feet.

Aside from producing steam to generate electricity, the technology, called concentrating solar thermal, can also use the steam for other industrial applications. BrightSource just held an inaugural ceremony for a 29 MW project at a Chevron oil production site in central California. The steam goes into the oil wells to loosen the oil that is stuck in rock fissures and make it easier to siphon out.

Building massive solar farms requires a lot of money. BrightSource has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in private money for running its day-to-day operation and for financing solar farm construction. For Ivanpah, it has secured private capital that included a $300 million commitment from NRG Energy (s NRG) and $168 million from Google (s GOOG), as well as a $1.6 billion federal loan.

The solar farm developer hasn’t said how much Hidden Hills or Rio Mesa will cost, but it is of course actively looking for project financing. BrightSource filed for an initial public offering in April this year, and its S-1 filing lists $250 million as the goal.

Photo courtesy of BrightSource Energy