Update: Abengoa now wants trough technology for Palen CSP project

Abengoa has informed regulators that it wants to proceed with the Palen CSP project in the California desert, but now plans to utilize ground-level parabolic trough systems instead of one and possibly two, massive 750-foot (229-meter) high “power towers.”

Last week, attorneys for the company made known the proposed change in technology in a letter to the California Energy Commission (CEC), Michael Ward, a CEC spokesman, tells Recharge.

The CEC on 15 December 2010 had approved original developer Solar Millenium's use of trough technology for a proposed 500MW project, and gave it five years to begin construction.

Millenium filed for bankruptcy in December 2011 and Oakland-based neighbor BrightSource Energy acquired project development rights in June 2012. It filed a petition to amend the license for the project to solar power tower technology with two 250-MW generating units.

Last September, a CEC committee recommended approval of a reduced acreage alternative to the project comprising a single solar tower, and that storage be part of the project if a second tower was proposed.

Before the full commission could vote on the committee's recommendation, BrightSource withdrew its petition. Soon thereafter, it sold its interest in Palen to partner Abengoa.

The CEC is now weighing a 4 August request by Palen SEGS I, a company Abengoa created to develop the project, for a one-year extension for construction start to 15 December 2016.

CEC staff on Monday said it does not oppose Abengoa's petition for an extension. The full CEC will hear the petition at a meeting 9 Sept.

Abengoa believes addition of molten salt storage will enable a project that will benefit grid reliability and help the state achieve its goals for renewable energy and carbon emission reduction.

In January, Abengoa chief executive Santiago Seage said his company would not advance the Palen project until the US Congress clarifies what will happen to the 30% solar Investment Tax Credit after 2016, when it is scheduled to decline to 10% for commercial projects.

The solar industry is lobbying for a full extension of the ITC. If that is not possible, extending the market by several years by adding “commence construction” language that would allow developers to qualify for the ITC by breaking ground at projects through the end of next year.

Native Americans and some environmentalists oppose power towers on the argument that they could harm desert wildlife, while project construction could damage archaeological sites.

Note: Adds background and staff recommendation that commission grant Abengoa's petition for one-year extension for construction start.