BrightSource, Abengoa Partner on Palen Project
March 20, 2013 - On July 11, 2012, the California Energy Commission approved a petition from Palen Solar I, LLC to transfer the ownership of the Palen Solar Project, from Palen Solar I, LLC to BrightSource Energy, Inc.
This week BrightSource announced it will be partnering with Abengoa (a Spanish company) to construct the 500-MW Palen Solar Electric Generating System.
The two solar thermal companies will work together to permit and finance the project, and Abengoa, as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor, will build it. BrightSource wants to have Palen in commercial operation by June of 2016 in order to qualify for federal solar tax credits that expire at the end of 2016. BrightSource acquired the project last year during the bankruptcy proceeding of former owner Solar Millennium.
The project will consist of two solar power towers with superheated steam to turn steam turbines, with a natural gas powered back-up. BrightSource has requested re-alignment of a natural gas pipeline lateral to the project.
Current project (March 2013):
^BrightSource solar power tower project, from PDF PowerPoint on CEC website >>here.
Former Solar Millennium parabolic trough project (early 2012):
^One of two proposed alternatives favored by Solar Millennium to get out of the sand transport corridor (orange-yellow-green bands). (From CEC Revised Staff Assessment)
Solar Trust of America Files for Chapter 11
April 2, 2012 - See story >>here.
Solar Millennium Considers Switching Project to PV
August 25, 2011 - Solar Millennium AG may change the design of its solar thermal plants planned for the US, Manager Magazin reported, citing an unidentified company spokeswoman. Erlangen, Germany-based Solar Millennium is considering switching plants in the Amargosa Valley near Las Vegas, andthe Palen Solar Power Project in Riverside County, California to photovoltaic generation, the magazine said, citing the spokeswoman.
^Desert lily (Hesperocallis undulata) on the Palen project site.
May 15, 2011 - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on May 13 released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Palen Solar Power Plant project in Riverside County, California.
Palen Solar I, LLC (Palen), a wholly owned subsidiary of Solar Millennium, Inc., has requested a right-of-way authorization to construct and operate the proposed project on approximately 5,200 acres of public lands 10 miles east of Desert Center. The proposed project would construct a 500-megawatt concentrating solar energy generating facility, as well as a transmission line and associated facilities. The project would connect to the planned Red Bluff substation, which would connect the project to the Southern California Edison regional transmission grid.
The BLM's preferred alternative in the FEIS is a modified footprint alternative that includes an optional 240 acres of private land at the south end of the project. The preferred alternative would also include an amendment to the California Desert Conservation Plan. The FEIS analyzes three action alternatives, a no-action alternative and two no-project alternatives that would amend the CDCA Plan. If approved, construction would begin in late 2010.
The FEIS/Proposed CDCA Plan Amendment analyzes the site-specific impacts on air, soil, water, cultural and biological resources as well as land use, noise, visual resources and impacts on Joshua Tree National Park.
Publication of the FEIS and proposed plan amendment initiates a 30-day comment period on the FEIS and a 30-day protest period on the proposed plan amendment. Details on filing a protest can be found in the Federal Register Notice and in the FEIS, both of which are available on the project website, www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/palmsprings/Solar_Projects/Palen_Solar_Power_Project_2.html.
For more information please refer to the project website, or contact Allison Shaffer, BLM project lead, (760) 833-7100 or CAPSSolarPalen@blm.gov. Comments may be faxed to (760) 833-7199, or mailed to Allison Shaffer, Project Manager, Palm Springs South Coast Field Office, BLM, 1201 Bird Center Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
December 15, 2010 - Today the California Energy Commission approved the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Power Project as well as the Rice Solar Energy Project, the smaller power tower at 150 MW. Center for Biological Diversity did a good job of opposing Palen, making a convincing case that CEC violated both the California Environmental Quality Act and their own Warren-Alquist Act, such as approving two project alternatives that Solar Millennium gets to choose from later. Also, parts of the Palen project are in two Wildlife Habitat Management Areas designated by Bureau of Land Management in their North Eastern Colorado Desert Plan, and part in a Desert Wildlife Management Area for tortoise habitat. BLM legally would need to approve a plan amendment to allow energy uses in these areas, and they do not even have a Final Environmental Impact Statement yet out for the project.
CEC summarily dismissed all these arguments.
We brought up the concerns that two prehistoric trails described by archaeologists cross and join on the project site, one from the Mule Mountains and one from the Palen Mountains, both going to the life-giving waters of Corn Springs across the valley to the south. Native people have long known of these trails and decry the destruction of these valuable cultural resources. BLM and CEC seem to ignore these features.
Also, groundwater pumping by the project would admittedly lower water tables, yet no analysis was done of the large Desert ironwood tree groves (Olneya tesota) in the region, and whether they would be impacted.
Plus the project would still directly impact much Mojave fringe-toed lizard (Uma scoparia) habitat. No assurance was given that private land-owners in Chuckwalla Valley who own sand habitats with the lizard would be willing to sell for mitigation lands.
Nevertheless, CEC attorneys tried to shoot down these arguments (in a manner that was not convincing), and the five Commissioners quickly voted to approve the project, adopting the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision.
One Commissioner brought up how Governor-elect Jerry Brown did indeed want a much more aggressive Distributed Generation goal of 12,000 MW (such as rooftop solar panels), but he still wants 8,000 MW of utility-scale solar, so "we have to approve this one," because Brown wants both. Also the usual overrides of biology, visual, and other resource concerns because of the urgency of climate change, the Great Recession that we are in, jobs needed, and "public convenience and necessity."
November 12, 2010 - Proposed Decision Recommends License for Palen Solar Power Project
SACRAMENTO - A California Energy Commission siting committee is recommending approval of the planned Palen Solar Power Project in Riverside County.
In its presiding member's proposed decision (PMPD) released today, the committee recommended either of two alternatives for the 500-megawatt facility that would eliminate impacts on biological resources. The project, even with mitigation measures, will contribute to direct environmental impacts to visual resources and to cumulative
environmental impacts in the areas of cultural resources, visual resources, and land use. However, the benefits of the project would outweigh, and justify a legal override of, those impacts. In addition, the committee determined that the project complies with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards.
The PMPD is not a final decision on the project. The committee released the document for 30 days of public comment and will consider input before bringing the proposed decision to the full five-member Commission. The entire document can be found on the Commission's website at:
Palen Solar I, LLC, a subsidiary of Solar Millennium, LLC, is the applicant for the Palen Solar Power Project. The project would be located about 10 miles east of Desert Center and about halfway between the cities of Indio and Blythe in eastern Riverside County.
A right-of-way grant is being sought for approximately 5,200 acres of land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Originally, construction and operation of the 500-MW project would have taken up about 2,970 acres.
The two alternatives recommended in the PMPD reconfigured the project to significantly reduce impacts on the Mojave fringe-toed lizard, sand dune habitat, and sand transport corridor. One alternative disturbs 4,365 acres, while the other alternative would take up about 4,330 acres.
The project is a concentrating solar trough thermal electric generating facility with two adjacent and independent units of 250 megawatts each for a total capacity of 500 megawatts. The proposed project would use parabolic trough technology where parabolic mirrors are used to heat a transfer fluid which is then used to generate steam. Electricity is produced from the steam expanding through steam turbine generators.
The Palen Solar Power Project is among nine large solar thermal projects scheduled to go before the full Commission before the end of the year. More than 4,100 megawatts of solar power will be added if all nine projects are approved.
The seven plants that have already have been licensed are: 250-MW Abengoa Mojave Solar Project (Sept. 8); the 250-MW Beacon Solar Energy Project (Aug. 25); the 1,000-MW Blythe Solar Power Project (Sept. 15); 663.5-MW Calico Solar Project (Oct. 28); the 250-MW Genesis Solar Energy Project (Sept. 29); the 709-MW Imperial Valley Solar Project (Sept. 29); and the 370-MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System project (Sept. 22).
The federal government and the State of California have established the need to increase the development and use of renewable energy in order to enhance the nation's energy independence, meet environmental goals, and create new economic growth opportunities.
More information on the proposed project is at:
Phreatophytes Not Ignored
September 27, 2010 - During a California Energy Commission workshop, Solar Millennium emphasized that it had pulled its project out of a large sand transport corridor along the northern part of the project area (see map above), where Mojave fringe-toed lizards (Uma scoparia) and many rare alkaline-sand-adapted rare plants dwell.
The California Energy Commission agreed that this would lessen the impact to the lizard to less than significant levels, although we still beleive impacts to the sand lizard will be huge. The area will be heavily disturbed, and predators such as Loggerhead shrikes will have more fenceline perches to nab the lizards. The project vivinity may become a sink for the local population.
But at the workshop, the Energy Commission botanist Carolyn Chaney Davis was most concerned about groundwater pumping to phreatophytes, arid-adapted trees with deep roots to access groundwater. Honey mesquite groves (Prosopis glandulosa) surround much of Palen Dry lake about a mile from the proposed project. Other deep-rooted desert trees in the area include Ironwood (Olneya tesota), blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida), and smoke tree (Psorothamnus spinosus).
A special plan community, the Alkali Sink Scrub, is even more endangered because the shrubs have shallower roots. This community is dominated by Iodine bush (Allenrolfea occidentalis) and Bush seepweed (Suaeda moquinii). These are wetland indicators of playa depressions with a shallow aquifer.
Scientists are not sure of the tolerance of these plants to chasing a lowering groundwater table down. Many phreatophytes have a dimorphic root system, with a shallower root area that can absorb brief rain runoff, and a deep root system to tap into groundwater during most of the year.
Hours were spent during the workshop in a debate between Solar Millennium and CEC, as Chaney Davis wanted a monitoring program to be carried out to see whether the Palen Solar Power Project's well's would impact the trees and alkali scrub nearby. Solar Millennium argued that the dry lake where the phreatophytes and alkali scrub grew was on a shallow perched water table in a playa clay layer, that was completely unconnected to the 150-foot deep groundwater on the alluvial fan under their project site, there fore they could not possibly draw down water in the plant communities of cenocern. Chaney Davis responded that the hydrology was speculative and she wanted monitoring as part of the project's certification. These valuable desert communities have been long ignored, and this time she wanted studies to see if the trees died over the next 30 years.
Solar Millennium said they did not want to be solely responsible for a few trees dying, as this could be due to the nearby agricultural wells. And putting in monitoring boreholes would only make financing the project more difficult, with added costs building up. CEC wanted to err on the side of caution, however. The issue was not resolved, and will be brought up again in further workshops.
^Honey mesquite at Palen Dry Lake.
^Alkali Sink Scrub at Palen Dry lake.
See Concern over spread of Sahara Mustard at the Blythe Solar Power Project >>here.
Cultural Issues Addressed in Video
July 29, 2010 - La Cuna de Aztlán (With Updated Comments By Chemehuevi Tribal Chairman, Charles Wood), video by Robert Lundahl. http://www.vimeo.com/13650564
June Site Visit Report
April Site Visit Report
March 19, 2010 - From the Staff Assessment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Palen Project "1,735 acres of Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat would be eliminated". The California Energy Commission and Bureau of Land Management have estimated in its joint document that big solar will destroy 16 percent of all fringe-toed lizard habitat in the California Deserts. Members of Basin and Range Watch were on the site March 16, 2010, and we can confirm that this species is abundant there...well, not for much longer.
Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma scoparia)
The SA/DEIS states: "The PSPP would eliminate 1,735 acres of Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat in the northeastern portion of the Project Disturbance Area, an area of active wind-blown sand with relatively shallow sand deposits, as well as areas of deeper and more active
vegetated sand dunes. In addition to this direct and immediate loss of habitat, the
project would significantly affect downwind Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat (see Soil &
Water Appendix A). The northeastern portion of the Project interrupts the regional
wind-borne sand transport corridor that moves sand southeast and east along the
Chuckwalla Valley and toward the Colorado River (Soil & Water Appendix A, Solar
"Staff considers the direct, indirect, and cumulative direct effect of the Project to be
significant for the Chuckwalla Valley Mojave fringe-toed lizard population. The
cumulative impact of all the proposed projects would be to increase the already
fragmented distribution of the Mojave fringe-toed lizards, and to increase the risk of
extirpation of isolated populations within the Chuckwalla Valley. Staff's proposed
Condition of Certification BIO-20 recommends acquisition and protection of core
populations of Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat elsewhere in the Chuckwalla Valley.
Habitat acquisition would offset some of this habitat loss, although not to less than
significant levels, and cannot remedy the Project's interference with the sand transport
process. Staff considers impacts of the Project, as currently configured, to be significant
Fringe-toed lizards have been reduced or eliminated from small dune systems from off-road traffic and urban development in other areas, now this new threat faces these interesting lizards. (See also our story on Calico Solar 1 habitat >>Sand Lizards.)
Joint Staff Assessment/Environmental Impact Statement Released for Palen Solar Project in Riverside County
Released: March 18, 2010
The project is being jointly developed by Solar Millennium, LLC, and Chevron Energy Solutions.
The 484-megawatt facility, to be located near Palen Dry Lake in Riverside County. The project will utilize solar parabolic trough technology to generate electricity. With this technology, arrays of parabolic mirrors collect heat energy from the sun and refocus the radiation on a receiver tube located at the focal point of the parabola. A transfer fluid is heated (dangerous Therminol) to approximately 750 degrees Fahrenheit as it circulates through the receiver tubes, then piped through a series of heat exchangers where it releases stored heat to generate high-pressure steam. The steam is fed to a traditional steam turbine generator where electricity is produced. The 5,200 acre project site is located approximately 10 miles east of Desert Center, along Interstate 10, approximately halfway between the cities of Indio and Blythe in Riverside County.
For additional details on the Palen Solar Project SA/DEIS, click on:
The Palen site is 10 miles east of Desert Center, California and a half mile north of Interstate 10. The proposed Palen Solar Power Project would consist of two parabolic trough solar thermal power plants, each of which would have a solar field comprised of rows of parabolic mirrors focusing solar energy on collector tubes. The tubes would carry heated oil to a boiler, which would then send steam to a turbine. The two phases would generate approximately 484 MW of electricity. The two power plants would share administrative buildings, parking areas, maintenance buildings, switch yards, bioremediation areas, wastewater treatment facilities, access and maintenance roads, and perimeter fencing. The project would also include a natural gas pipeline, communication lines, and a 230 kV transmission line. The total expected project footprint would be approximately 3,800 acres. During construction, the project would require approximately 1,100 acre-feet of water for dust control and soil compaction. During operation, the project would require approximately 300 acre-feet of water per year. CESSM proposes to use water from new wells. The Palen facility would be constructed in two phases.
^Old version of project.