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More Renewable Energy in California: Solar Thermal Power Plant Approved

Two decades have past since a solar thermal power plant has been approved in California and on Wednesday, the California Energy Commission approved a 250 mega-watt solar thermal plant.

The Beacon Solar Energy Project will be a step forward for California coming closer to the law that was set out for investor-owned utility companies to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources, such as solar. Although it is not promising that the 20 percent mark will not be reached by all utility companies, the California Energy Commission will soon vote on eight more large-scale solar thermal plants.

The Beacon project was first applied for in March of 2008 by NextEra Energy Resources and the lengthy processes are due to that fact that the many of these developers must win permits from the state and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. NextEra is building on private land so the process was shorter than most but they are still in need of a utility customer to buy the elecetricity produced from their solar thermal plant.

The location for the solar thermal plant is on 2,000 acres along the edge of the Mojave Desert in Kerns County. The Beacon project will use a specific solar thermal technology where troughs of mirrors are curved in shape to concentrate the sunlight onto liquid-filled tubes. The liquid tubing will then create steam to drive a turbine to turn and generate electricity. Over 500 million gallons of water is needed annually at the solar thermal plant to produce steam and to cool the equipment since heat is produced.

Due to the arid climate of the region, regulators and environmentalists were skeptical of the plant because of the water needed so NextEra decided that recycled municipal water from a nearby neighborhood will be used instead of groundwater. Moreover, the solar plant should have minimal impact on the pristine nature of the land and the wildlife that thrives in the Mojave.

Commissioner Jeffrey Byron of the California Energy Commission said, “I hope this is the first of many more large-scale renewable energy projects that this commission will permit.” The eight other plants that are said to be voted upon soon for approval are in a tight situation since Obama’s economic stimulus package can fund 30 percent of a renewable energy project’s costs if the construction starts by the end of this year.

Image Bilfinger Berger Group via Flickr under a CC license.

Written by Keenan Shaw

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