News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Calico Solar Developer Seeks Shift to PV-Only

Sun sets on SunCatchers? | Photo: Panal Lira/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Solar developer K-Road Power, which purchased the gigantic Calico Solar Power project in California's Mojave Desert from the bankrupt firm Tessera, has officially sought approval from the California Energy Commission to redesign the project to use only solar photovoltaic cells to produce power, according to ReCharge News.

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Tessera's project as approved by the CEC in 2010 would have used that firm's proprietary SunCatchers, which would have used free-standing parabolic mirrors to focus sunlight on Stirling engines. The SunCatcher design, with hundreds of moving parts, suffered significant losses in commercial viability over the last two years as solar PV -- with few or no moving parts -- dropped in price.

When K Road Power bought the Calico project, the firm agreed to keep 100 MW worth of the project's planned 663.5 MW capacity -- which had been reduced significantly from the 850 MW project originally proposed by Tessera. In its petition to the CEC to modify the site, K Road now says that SunCatchers are "no longer a viable technology for use on the site." The firm also wants to reduce the Calico plant's size to 618 MW in an attempt to fend off lawsuits filed in March by environmental groups claiming the project posed an unacceptable threat to Mojave Desert wildlife. The SunCatchers version of the project was also opposed by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, which cited potential safety hazards to its trains.

K Road is asking to reduce the project footprint from 4,613 acres to 3,855 acres and provide the following additional measures as specified by the CEC:

  • Remove the 5 to 1 tortoise mitigation lands located in the northern project site.
  • Create a wildlife movement corridor through the center of the project.
  • Reduce impacts to the White-Margined Beardtongue from four distinct areas to one.
  • Exclude 69 acres of Mojave Fringe Toad Lizard habitat. This total acreage includes 17 acres of the 21.4 total acres of high quality breeding habitat.
  • Exclude donated Catellus Lands within Section 17 from the site.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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