BrightSource pushes for Palen reopen

BrightSource Energy and Abengoa are pushing to get Palen back on the drawing table, after attempting to address the California regulator’s concerns about the proposed 500MW concentrating solar power (CSP) project.

Last December the California Energy Commission preliminarily rejected Palen – which was switched from parabolic-trough to power-tower CSP technology after BrightSource acquired the project from Solar Millennium – on environmental and cultural grounds.

But in January the regulator agreed to merely suspend the project, rather than deny it outright, while BrightSource and Abengoa worked to address its outstanding concerns.

Palen Solar Holdings – the project company owned by BrightSource and Abengoa Solar – has now formally requested that the regulator reopen the evidentiary record on Palen, opening the door for the project to get back on track.

Among the regulator's most serious concerns was the still-poorly-understood impact on local bird populations from solar flux – effectively the glare created by power-tower CSP projects. The issue came to the fore after a number of singed birds began turning up at Ivanpah, BrightSource’s 392MW flagship project, which was recently completed in California, making it the world's largest operational CSP plant.

Palen was – and still remains – approved for parabolic-trough technology, but that does little good for Alstom-backed BrightSource, whose well of US projects has dried up after last year icing its 500MW Hidden Hills and 500MW Rio Mesa plans, both also in California.

As part of their request to have the record on Palen reopened, BrightSource and Abengoa have submitted to the regulator new and ostensibly more favourable information about bird mortality at Ivanpah – comparing it to First Solar’s PV-based Desert Sunlight and NextEra’s parabolic-trough-based Genesis projects.

The developers have also attempted to allay concerns about the visual impact Palen might have on local native cultures by outlining plans to fund cultural workshops and pay for restoration projects.

Another issued flagged up by the regulator was Palen's lack of plans for energy-storage, seen as one of the key advantages of CSP over PV. In response, the developers have included information about how energy-storage facilities could be added to the project at a later date.

Should their request be approved, the project could be formally on track within three months, according to press reports.