1st Big Solar Plant Permitted, Marsh Landing Licensed

By Published On: August 27, 2010

The California Energy Commission approved a license for the 250 MW Beacon Solar Energy Project, which would be the first of a new generation of solar thermal plants in California if built. “This is exactly the type of project we want to see,” said commissioner Jeff Byron. “I hope this is the first of many more large-scale solar projects.” A second licensing also was approved August 25, clearing the way for constructing the 760 MW natural gas-fired combined-cycle Marsh Landing Generating Station. Beacon’s permit was unanimously approved by the five-member commission. The solar project is slated for a 2,000 acre site in eastern Kern County on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, about 17 miles north of Edwards Air Force Base. It’s estimated that the project would use about 1,400-acre feet per year of recycled water for plant cooling--or 1,400 football fields filled with water one foot deep--and 153 acre-feet per year of groundwater for other uses, like washing the solar panels. Another 47 acre-feet per year would be held for emergency reserve. (An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons.) There was some opposition to the project, primarily by the group California Unions for Reliable Energy. It objected to the use of local water, because of reduced return flows, as well as impacts on soil resources. Beacon Solar’s energy collection field would cover over 1,200 acres of the 2,000 acre site and consist of a large number of solar collector panels that would track the sun from east to west, according to Energy Commission hearing officer Ken Celli. According to documents, transfer fluid would be circulated through the collection discs while being heated to about 740 degrees Fahrenheit. The fluid would go through a series of heat exchangers to generate high-pressure steam to turn turbines and produce electricity. Construction is projected to take about 25 months and the project’s life is estimated at 30 years. A project power purchase agreement has yet to be signed. Applicant Beacon Solar, which is a subsidiary of FPL Energy, estimates the cost at about $530 million. Several other solar thermal power plants are on track in Southern California, mostly in Riverside and San Bernardino counties (see sidebar page 5). The newly permitted Marsh Landing gas peaking project is to be located on a 27-acre site in Contra Costa County just outside Antioch. The city has said it plans to annex the plant site land, as well as the adjacent area, sometime this year. Mirant has a long-term power purchase agreement in place with Pacific Gas & Electric. Marsh Landing, a Mirant subsidiary, would consist of four simple cycle natural gas-fired combustion turbines. It would sit adjacent to the existing Contra Costa Power Plant, an older facility owned and operated by Mirant Delta, which is also a subsidiary of Mirant. Mirant announced it would retire the remaining operating units at the Contra Costa plant on April 30, 2013. Mirant plans to merge with RRI. Before retiring the existing Contra Costa units and adding in Marsh, the two merged companies would control about 17,000 fossil-fueled MW in California. The certification approval came more than eight hours after the commission’s 10 a.m. meeting began. It had been on track for approval in the early afternoon, but commission staff took the unusual action of pulling the item and suspending the meeting for hours in order to refine the technical language. The meeting was reconvened about 5:45 p.m. and the project was approved about an hour later. Two people addressed the commission during the meeting. One resident expressed concern about the effect the plant would have on local biological resources. Another speaker praised the project for the potential to bring badly needed jobs to the area. Construction of the $550 million facility is expected to begin in late 2010. Start-up is projected for summer 2013.

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