Big Desert Solar Plant Gets Union Support

Utility-scale solar-power projects in the California desert have gotten a bad rap from some detractors, who worry about their potential impact on the fragile desert environment. After a lawsuit and a failed power purchase agreement, one such project, the Calico Solar Project (approved last year to great fanfare, and then abandoned by its developers), has a new owner. And that new owner, K Road Power, is emphasizing minimizing environmental impact while enlisting the support of labor unions to help make the project a reality.

K Road, an independent developer of utility-scale solar projects in the American Southwest, said it is now collaborating with California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), a coalition of unions whose members build, maintain and operate conventional and renewable energy power plants in California. With the collaboration, K Road said it “will implement specific measures to avoid or minimize the project’s impacts on special status plants and wildlife, and state jurisdictional waters.” Measures will also be taken on worker health and safety, both in the construction and operations of the plant, that “go above and beyond those (K Road) is already undertaking as part of its permitting process with the Bureau of Land Management and California Energy Commission.”

Concentrating Solar Dish

image via Sterling Energy

The project will use union-only labor, creating up to 700 jobs during the construction phase of the project, and up to 112 permanent jobs associated with ongoing maintenance and operation of the facility, K Road said.

The project site remains on federal lands in a designated energy corridor 37 miles east of Barstow, Calif. When it took over the project, K Road largely ditched previous developer Tessera’s plan to use a concentrating solar power technology supplied by Tessera sister company Sterling Energy Systems. Instead, it envisions using 563 megawatts (MW) of solar PV and just 100.5 MW of the Stirling “SunCatcher” solar thermal technology. The project has received full approval from the California Energy Commission, but a new power purchase arrangement is yet to be negotiated. The target date for commercial operation of Phase 1 of the project  is 2014.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

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