BrightSource ices 500MW Hidden Hills

BrightSource Energy has iced plans for its 500MW Hidden Hills power-tower project in eastern California, in another sign of the headwinds facing the concentrating solar power (CSP) sector.

BrightSource, which counts Alstom among its key backers, cited challenges in meeting the delivery schedule and the lack of clarity on needed transmission upgrades as the reasons behind its decision.

The utility Pacific Gas & Edison simultaneously binned its plan to buy power from Hidden Hills, which was slated for completion in 2015.

Coming less than three months after BrightSource quietly suspended plans for its 500MW Rio Mesa project in California, the shelving of Hidden Hills further suggests a reining-in of the company’s mid-term ambitions amid lingering questions about the future commercial viability of CSP.

Last year BrightSource pulled its planned initial public offering, facing a bleak macroeconomic picture and a specific lack of appetite for clean-tech companies in the public markets.

As with Rio Mesa, BrightSource insists it may one day revive the Hidden Hills project. The project faced an uncertain ruling later this year from the California Energy Commission, which had gone on record as saying that PV panels represented an “environmentally superior” technology choice for the site – a view BrightSource disputes.

In the immediate term, the decision allows BrightSource to focus on its nearly-finished 377MW Ivanpah project, and then shift its attention to the 500MW Palen project – for which Abengoa was recently brought on as engineering, procurement and construction contractor.

BrightSource is also developing a 121MW CSP plant in Israel, due on line by 2017.

Still, the icing of Hidden Hills and Rio Mesa significantly limits the scope of the company’s activities over the next half decade, and represents a blow to the global CSP sector at a time some experts view falling PV prices as an existential threat

BrightSource remains one of the world’s most important pure-play CSP specialists, and a key defender of the notion that the storage capability inherent to CSP will make it increasingly competitive with PV and other generation technologies in hot climates in the coming years. Ivanpah, being built by construction giant Bechtel, will not incorporate storage.

With the Spanish CSP market all but dead, and the near-term US market shrinking rapidly, emerging markets in places like the Middle East, North Africa and India appear the brightest hope for the CSP in the run-up to 2020.