News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

BrightSource Suspends Hidden Hills Project

Hidden Hills, the artist's impression | Image: California Energy Commission

BrightSource Energy has suspended its proposed Hidden HIlls Solar Electric Generating System project and cancelled an agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric to buy the power from the project. The company cited scheduling issues and transmission obstacles as its reasons for the decision. The move, which stops short of a full cancellation of the project, leaves BrightSource with just one pending desert solar project being evaluated by the CEC.

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In an email to ReWire, BrightSource spokesperson Keely Wachs spelled out the company's reasons for the suspension:

This week, PG&E and BrightSource mutually agreed to terminate the power purchase agreements in connection with the Hidden Hills project due to challenges associated with the project schedule and uncertainty around the timing of transmission upgrades.

Changing dynamics in the California energy markets point to the need for more flexible resources, such as concentrating solar thermal power with storage, to achieving a 33% renewable portfolio standard while maintaining reliability.

Hidden Hills is a good site to deploy solar thermal with storage technology. However, such a change would require an amendment to the permit application and reopening of the evidentiary record to account for impacts associated with a new project footprint, including layout of the solar field, storage equipment and reconfiguration of the power blocks.

The CEC is at the point of undertaking a significant effort to prepare and review briefs based on the project's current configuration. Suspending the application avoids unnecessary time and expense on the part of all parties in the permitting process.

Hidden Hills had been touted by the company, along with the project's now-mothballed near-twin at Rio Mesa, as a necessary increment in the company's development of its thermal storage capability.

Hidden Hills would have occupied about 3,280 acres of private lands in the Inyo County portion of the Pahrump Valley just west of the Nevada State line. Its two power towers would have generated a combined maximum of 500 megawatts of solar thermal electricity, which would have been transmitted to utility customers along a circuitous transmission corridor running out of california, about 60 miles into Nevada, and then back again.

The BrightSource Notice of Suspension, posted Wednesday to the California Energy Commission (CEC) website, hedges the company's bets:

Notwithstanding this notice, the Applicant plans to continue to evaluate and collect information on the Project. While the Commission should not continue to process the Application, the Applicant does not wish for its Application to be withdrawn pursuant to Section 1709.8 of the Commission's regulations. The Applicant will file a subsequent notice when it wishes for the Commission to continue processing the Application for Certification for the Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System, and that notice will request a Committee conference to establish a new schedule in the proceeding based on the circumstances at that time.

The suspension leaves BrightSource with only one project under consideration by the CEC: the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Electric Generating Station, which had been approved by the CEC for a radically different design by previous owner Solar Millennium. BrightSource's Ivanpah project, nearing completion, is the only solar power generating project on which the company has broken ground in California, though the firm has built a smaller facility near Coalinga that creates solar steam to make Chevron's local oil wells more productive.

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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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