December 5, 2008

Lancaster sees solar as salvation

The city and surrounding Antelope Valley have been hard hit by poverty, unemployment and foreclosures. The nearly complete eSolar facility could create jobs and restore a sense of pride.

Workers install mirrors at an eSolar demonstration plant in Lancaster. The city hopes the company will provide jobs for Antelope Valley residents.Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times

By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
By Cassandra Sweet, Dow Jones Newswires

SAN FRANCISCO -(Dow Jones)- Plans to develop a large solar-thermal power plant in California moved a step closer Thursday after state regulators approved a contract between Edison International (EIX) unit Southern California Edison and plant developer eSolar.

In June, Edison signed a 20-year contract with eSolar Inc. to take the output from a series of concentrating solar power plants eSolar plans to build that would produce up to 245 megawatts of electricity. Approval by the California Public Utilities Commission allows Edison to recover the costs of the contract from its customers.

The solar facility, to be built in Kern County, Calif., will use concentrating solar power technology developed by eSolar. The technology has yet to generate electricity at a commercial scale, although eSolar is building a demonstration project. ESolar, a startup based in Pasadena, Calif., has secured the land needed for the project and lined up financing from, Idealab and Oak Investment Partners, according to the CPUC.

The price of the power from eSolar's facility is considered above-market, and Edison received commission approval to use special funds collected from utility customers to cover the extra amount.

The solar plant will interconnect with the Southern California grid at a new substation that Edison plans to build as part of the Tehachapi renewable transmission project.