SOLAR:

Calif. clears state permit for BrightSource solar station

BrightSource Energy Inc.'s solar power project in Ivanpah, Calif., won approval yesterday from state regulators, leaving it one step removed from breaking ground.

The 392-megawatt solar thermal power plant received a unanimous nod from the California Energy Commission, ending years of often-acrimonious struggle over the project's environmental impact in the Mojave Desert. The vote represents the fourth project cleared by the CEC in the last month.

The commission and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are working jointly to vet and license a handful of solar power projects by year's end, when federal stimulus incentives for such development expire. BLM is expected to approve Ivanpah in October.

The presiding commissioner over the BrightSource plan, Jeffrey Byron, said in a statement that the project "presented us with significant environmental challenges." Nevertheless, the pressure to build renewable energy to satisfy state clean energy goals appears to have trumped some local effects in the Mojave.

"The applicant's changes to the original proposal and the constructive input of a record number of participants mean the Ivanpah project will now produce renewable energy and provide needed economic activity to the region while minimizing the impact to the desert's natural environment," Byron said.

The project had been opposed by some environmental groups concerned about its effect on an endangered desert tortoise and two rare plants. After Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was enlisted to help pressure BrightSource, developers changed their plan significantly to gain state approval and help protect habitat (ClimateWire, March 18).

The plant would be among the first commercial-scale solar plants to be permitted on federal land. Oakland-based BrightSource intends to build on 3,582 acres of public land managed by BLM. The project's footprint was reduced by 12 percent, from 4,073 acres, to protect biological resources, the CEC said.

The project will proceed in three phases: Up first is a 120-megawatt generator, to be followed by two 125-megawatt phases. The plant will use mirrors, or heliostats, to focus energy on a tower that produces steam-powered electricity.

On the same day the permit was cleared, The Wall Street Journal reported that BrightSource has secured the services of an investment bank to begin work on an initial public offering. BrightSource spokesman Keely Wachs would not comment on the story or say whether the company might be going public.

Sullivan reported from San Francisco.

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