Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E (News - Alert)), California’s largest utility, has received unanimous approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to buy power from SolarReserve’s planned 150-megawatt (MW) solar thermal plant in eastern Riverside County—which will be the first large-scale solar system in the state to offer energy storage capabilities.
The Rice Solar Energy Project’s molten salt system will provide as much as 10 hours of energy-storage capability. Construction on the plant—which represents in excess of $750 million of direct investment in California and is expected to generate more than 5,300 jobs across the supply chain—is expected to break ground in early 2014 and begin commercial operation in mid-2016. Construction activities on site are expected to peak at more than 670 workers
The 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with PG&E for the output from the Rice project will become effective on June 1, 2016. The PPA will help PG&E to conform to a state law that mandates utilities to supply 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2016; and 33 percent, by 2020.
The solar thermal (also known as concentrated solar power or CSP) project will use thousands of mirrors to focus sunlight onto a central tower containing molten salt, which will then be funneled through a steam generator to produce electricity. The salt retains heat and can produce power at night—an advantage over photovoltaic panels that cost less and only work when the sun is shining.
The Rice project has received full environmental permits, including its California Energy Commission (News - Alert) (CEC) license and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approvals, and will be located on privately owned and previously disturbed land in the Sonoran Desert.
According to Santa Monica-based SolarReserve, the project will use a dry-cooled system to significantly minimize water usage in the desert location—resulting in less than 20 percent of the water used per kilowatt of electricity produced by conventional coal or nuclear facilities.
"In my personal view, projects like the Rice Solar Project will be important to demonstrate that we can firm and shape intermittent renewables with clean technology, not just with fossil technology," commented CPUC Commissioner Mark Ferron.
"The CPUC made it very clear that our ability to store energy was the key factor in approving the amended Rice contract," said SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith. "SolarReserve's market-leading technology is a true alternative to conventional generators; and can provide firm and reliable electricity as needed by the utility or system operator, day and night. This capability will be crucial, as California progresses toward its 33 percent renewable target. We are also making tremendous strides in exporting this proven U.S. technology worldwide to markets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and our projects in Nevada and California help establish the U.S. as an innovation leader in alternate energy."
SolarReserve also is developing the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project— a 110 MW concentrated solar power tower located near Tonopah, Nevada. When completed, the facility will supply approximately 500,000 megawatt hours (MWh) annually of clean, renewable electricity, or enough to power 75,000 homes during peak electricity periods.
The company closed financing for Crescent Dunes in September 2011, including a $737 million loan from the Department of Energy; and private financing from SolarReserve, ACS (News - Alert) Cobra and Santander. SolarReserve has a 25-year power purchase agreement with NV Energy to sell 100 percent of the electricity generated by the Crescent Dunes plant.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman