Regulators took the unprecedented step of lifting the veil of secrecy on a solar thermal agreement between Pacific Gas & Electric and Abengoa Solar before approving it Nov. 10. Traditionally, the California Public Utilities Commission has obscured the price of past contracts aimed at meeting the state\u2019s renewable portfolio standard. But while commissioners ultimately voted 4-1 to override staff concerns about the cost of the $50 million\/year 25-year agreement, for the first time they frankly discussed the economics of Abengoa\u2019s project in public. They also urged that future contracts be handled far differently than those in the past. Under the deal, PG&E is to get power from a shovel-ready $1.25 billion 250 MW solar thermal project the Spanish energy company is ready to build in the Mojave Desert. Commissioner Mike Florio, who cast the lone no vote, characterized the contract as \u201creally expensive.\u201d He added, regulators \u201ccould get 500 MW of renewable energy for the price we\u2019re paying for this 250 MW.\u201d His concern echoed a CPUC staff analysis showing the cost of power from the project would be far more expensive than recent renewable contract offers made by other developers to PG&E. However, CPUC president Mike Peevey said that rejecting the deal \u201cwould send a chilling message\u201d to renewable energy developers. Abengoa, he noted, has spent 5 years and $70 million to develop the project. It has all its construction permits, has financing lined up--including a $1.2 billion Department of Energy loan guarantee--and has an interconnection agreement in hand to transmit its power to the utility, he added. The project also will enjoy a 30 percent federal investment tax credit. Commissioner Tim Simon said that while he continues to be concerned about the cost of renewable energy, the commission needs to examine \u201cthe totality of facts and circumstances\u201d surrounding the deal. One key benefit, he said, is that the project will provide desperately needed construction jobs in the region, where unemployment stands above 16 percent. Simon lauded Abengoa and construction unions for agreeing to make sure that 40 percent of those hired to build the facility are minorities, women, and disabled veterans. He noted that unemployment among Latinos in the area stands at 30 percent. Almost 1,200 workers are needed for construction, according to Abengoa. Between payroll and locally purchased equipment and materials, the project is set to pump almost $400 million into the local economy over a 26-month period. The Abengoa project may be one of the last to be dealt with by the commission where the cost and value to ratepayers is one of the last things considered when utilities and renewable project developers enter into contracts. \u201cThe process is completely backward,\u201d said commissioner Catherine Sandoval. She urged the CPUC to revamp the way it handles renewable contract approvals to calculate the cost and value of projects to ratepayers upfront and to set interim milestones to keep projects on track. She said the commission should not be in the position of having to weigh whether the costs of projects are justified after developers already have spent as much time and money as Abengoa did for its Mojave project. Other commissioners voiced similar concerns. The CPUC\u2019s action removed the last remaining hurdle for Abengoa to build the 250 MW project on 1,765 acres of private land in the Mojave Desert nine miles northwest of Hinkley in San Bernardino County. It will use parabolic trough technology, which provides thermal inertia that commissioners said makes it less intermittent than photovoltaic systems. Peevey said this characteristic would reduce the need for ancillary services that maintain voltage when there are sudden dips on the grid. Abengoa says the project should begin producing power in 2014.