|Mojave Solar Project near Hinkley, California under construction.|
Victorville Daily Press
HINKLEY — One of the world’s largest solar-thermal projects is progressively going online this year, but not all of its power can be delivered unless more transmission lines are installed, experts say.
Nestled against the small community of Lockhart, about 20 miles northwest of Barstow on the edge of Harper Lake, the Mojave Solar project comes with a $1.6 billion price tag and a $1.2 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. Financial closing from the Federal Financing Bank helped start construction in 2011.
The project is the second of its type in the United States being built by Abengoa Solar, a Spain-based corporation. It will help fulfill the state’s mandate that 33 percent of electrical power supplied in California must come from renewable-energy sources by 2020.
“Mojave Solar will produce the clean energy equivalent to that needed to power approximately 90,000 households,” Abengoa Solar spokesman Luis Rejano Flores said in an email from corporate offices in Spain.
When completed, Mojave Solar will occupy 1,765 acres of mainly fallow alfalfa fields and use concentrating solar power, “a new parabolic trough technology that will be more efficient and cost effective” than previous solar-energy plants, the company says.
The installation at Mojave Solar’s two 140-megawatt “power islands” uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s thermal energy in a low-profile configuration and drive conventional steam engines, the company says. It was intended to start transmitting power about mid-year but it is not yet in commercial operation, Flores said.
The project is engineered to transmit electricity to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and prevent 437,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year when compared to a natural gas plant, according to corporate literature. It can store six hours’ worth of energy for use when there is no sunlight.
However, the Abengoa facility depends on a proposed Southern California Edison transmission project to become fully effective.
“They have an agreement to sell the power from their plant in Hinkley to PG&E, but it connects to the transmission grid on the SCE portion of the California ISO system,” said Charles Adamson, SCE’s manager of major projects. “Abengoa Mojave Solar cannot deliver all of its output to PG&E without the Coolwater-Lugo (Transmission Project).”
The California Independent System Operator manages the power-supply market and distributes electricity through high-voltage, long-distance power lines for 80 percent of the state and a small portion of Nevada. SCE’s Coolwater-Lugo project proposes to beef up existing transmission lines and electrical capacity from the Yermo area to Hesperia, where it is meeting resistance from some residents. It is still early in the permitting and approval process but is hoped to be approved for upgrade in 2016.
Abengoa Solar, with U.S. regional headquarters in Denver, also operates a similar 280-MW parabolic trough plant near Gila Bend, Arizona. Named Solana, it is the largest parabolic trough plant in the world, occupying 1,920 acres, the company says.
The Solana project received a $1.45 billion federal loan guarantee for construction, which was completed last year. It supplies power to 70,000 households through Arizona Public Service Co.
“Abengoa Solar will continue to provide clean energy, jobs and economic growth in California and the United States with both the Mojave and Solana projects,” the corporation says.
Solana created more than 2,000 construction jobs and 85 permanent jobs, Abengoa says, and Mojave Solar is creating more than 1,500 construction and permanent jobs. Corporate facilities include an operations and maintenance office in Victorville.
A spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Denny Boyles, confirmed the facility is not yet online and that connecting to the grid is the developer’s responsibility. He added that PG&E is on track to meet and sustain the state mandate of having renewable-energy sources contribute at least a third of its electrical production portfolio by 2020 and beyond.
The Mojave Solar installation will generate about $169 million in tax revenues over its 25-year expected life, according to company projections — after its 280-MW output is fully connected to the grid.
Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories examining renewable energy plans in the High Desert. Today’s story focuses on Abengoa’s Mojave Solar facility near Hinkley. Sunday’s second part will focus on Southern California Edison’s proposed Coolwater-Lugo Transmission Project.