California solar plants to have ‘record-breaking’ land efficiency

If state officials approve, California could soon be on its way to seeing the development of three new solar thermal power plants that could produce enough electricity for some 300,000 homes.

Not only that, the proposed Rio Mesa project would also boast a record-breaking efficiency in terms of the amount of solar energy generated per acre, according to BrightSource Energy. BrightSource has just filed an Application for Certification (AFC) with the California Energy Commission to develop the three 250-megawatt (MW) power plants on 5,750 acres of land  in Riverside County.

To be built mostly on land owned by the Metropolitan Water District, the development will feature numerous heliostats — pole-mounted mirror arrays that track the sun’s motion — focused on a boiler at the top of a solar tower. The boiler will produce steam to then drive a generator to make electricity.

According to BrightSource, the Rio Mesa plants will set a new solar industry record in land efficiency by using a higher tower and increased mirror density to reduce the area needed to generate each megawatt of energy. It will also use a dry-cooling and water recycling system to minimize water consumption and waste.

When complete, the three plants will produce enough clean electricity to avoid more than 750,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually, BrightSource said.

Because part of the project will also be built on public land managed by the  Bureau of Land Management, the bureau will also have to sign off on the plans.

Sparsely populated and surrounded by desert and agricultural parcels, the Metropolitan Water District land had been specifically designated the land for renewable energy development. The site was used for military training during World War II. During the ’70s, it was to have been the location for the never-developed Sundesert Nuclear Power Plant.

Stephen Wiley, BrightSource’s senior vice president of US Project Development, said the project will create “thousands” of jobs in a region where some areas report unemployment of nearly 30 percent. According to the company, those would include around 2,500 construction jobs and 150 operations and maintenance jobs.

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