BrightSource Eyes Trio Of 250-MW Solar Towers

BrightSource Energy, developer of the federally backed Ivanpah and the proposed Hidden Hills solar thermal power plants, has announced its intentions to develop three additional solar thermal power plants in California. BrightSource recently filed an Application for Certification with the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop three 250-megawatt (MW) solar thermal power plants (a total of 750 MW) in Riverside County.

The proposed Rio Mesa project will be located primarily on 5,750 acres of public land and land owned by the Metropolitan Water District, about 13 miles southwest of Blythe, Calif. The project will require approval from the CEC and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Brightsource thermal array

image via California Air Resources Board

The Rio Mesa plants will employ BrightSource Energy’s proprietary LPT solar thermal energy system, which uses hundreds of high intensity mirrors, strategically placed in a “solar field” to generate steam and turn a turbine in a 750-foot “power tower”. Collectively, the three proposed systems will generate enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes.

According to BrightSource, the LPT system has significantly lower environmental impacts than other types of utility-scale solar power plants. First, it requires up to 33 percent less land than a photovoltaic (PV) array or parabolic trough solar thermal plant. By installing mirrors on individual poles placed directly into the ground, the company is able to build the plant around the natural contours of the land. This method avoids the land grading and concrete pouring associated with other solar technology systems, and retains native vegetation growth under the mirrors. To conserve water, the solar plants will also employ an air-cooling system to convert the steam back into water in a closed-loop cycle.

The Rio Mesa project is expected to create approximately 2,500 construction jobs at the peak of construction and 150 operations and maintenance jobs, BrightSource said. It is also projected to inject over $800 million into the local economy.

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).