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

L.A. to Break Ground on Big Desert Solar Project

Artist's rendition, Beacon Solar project | Image: California Energy Commission

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and a handful of solar contractors will celebrate the start of construction Wednesday on the Beacon Solar Project near the Kern County town of Cantil. The 250-megawatt project will be built on land adjacent to State Route 14 four miles south of Red Rock Canyon State Park.

LADWP bought the property in late 2012 from NextEra Energy, which had planned to build a solar facility there using parabolic trough mirrors, a technology that concentrates the sun's energy. Instead, LADWP will be using photovoltaic, or PV, panels on the site, which means the remote project in the western Mojave Desert marks another milestone in the last few years' dramatic shift in the solar industry from solar thermal to PV. Since 2007, the price of PV has dropped dramatically, making solar thermal increasingly uncompetitive.

The project will be built by SunEdison and Hecate Energy, which both agreed to build additional solar power stations within Los Angeles city limits. These urban solar projects will total 50 megawatts.

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The Beacon site is near the LADWP's Pine Tree Wind Farm and its associated solar facilities.

In June, LADWP's senior assistant general manager Randy Howard told PV News that the utility intends to build a large renewable energy generating "hub" in the area. That hub would send power into the Los Angeles Basin by way of the Barren Ridge Renewable Transmission Project, a controversial upgrade of which is scheduled to be completed by 2016. The expansion was opposed by Leona Valley and Green Valley residents over fears of wildfires sparked by the new 230 kilovolt line. Environmentalists worried over the impact of the upgraded line on the local population of California condors, among other wildlife species.

Wildlife on the Beacon site included a dozen families of burrowing owls, according to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife report to the California Energy Commission during consideration of the NextEra version of the project. Desert tortoises and Mohave ground squirrels are also potential inhabitants of the site, both listed as Threatened species under the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, respectively.

According to LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards, the Beacon Solar project puts the nation's largest publicly owned utility within reach of its targets of 25 percent renewable energy by 2016 and 33 percent by 2020.

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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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