BrightSource Eyes Twin-Tower Solar In Desert

BrightSource Energy, the company battling to build the big Ivanpah solar-power plant out in the Mojave Desert, has its sights set on another Southern California location as well, applying with the state to certify two proposed 250-megawatt (MW) systems on a single parcel in Inyo County, near the California-Nevada state line.

The Oakland, Calif.-based company envisions using “power tower” concentrating solar – also known as solar thermal – in the Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System. This type of plant generates power by using a vast, circular field of mirrors to bounce sunlight on a tower at their center, thus heating water than can be used to turn turbines. Typically these towers are 400 to 500 feet tall, but BrightSource says the Hidden Hills towers would be 750 feet high.

solar power plant, BrightSource Energy, Hidden Hills

image via BrightSource Energy

In papers filed with the California Energy Commission, the company said this would allow for a tighter configuration of the mirrors, each of which would be placed on an individual pole, reducing shading and boosting density. “More megawatts can be generated per acre and the design is more efficient overall,” the company said.

Hidden Hills solar power plant, BrightSource Energy

image via BrightSource Energy

The Hidden Hills site is a 3,280-acre parcel about 18 miles south of Pahrump, Nev., and 45 miles west of Las Vegas. According to BrightSource, the privately owned land “is predominately flat, and dry, and sparsely vegetated. Until recently, there were plans for a housing subdivision. The property has also been used in the past as an orchard.” All this makes it sound like a good candidate to avoid the ire of environmentalist, who have filed suit to block the Ivanpah plant claiming it poses a threat to the endangered desert tortoise.

BrightSource said power generated at Hidden Hills would go to Pacific Gas & Electric under two power-purchase agreements approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2010. The company hopes to have the plant built and operating by 2015.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.