Luz Rises Again as BrightSource for California

brightsource breaks ground
As a Californian, I am very happy that BrightSource Energy has been first to break ground on the new solar power projects in California’s desert.

After all, the brains of BrightSource Energy, Israel-based BrightSource Industries, which is responsible for the plant design and engineering, used to be Luz.

Luz built the world’s pioneering solar thermal project in California’s desert, back in the Carter era ’80s, when, just like now, a truly rare green-minded US president promoted clean energy. Now, once again there is a massive resurgence in clean solar energy in the US, propelled by Obama administration funding under the Recovery Act.

But last time, we almost killed it.

The original project is still going strong thirty years later, having pumped out 14,000 gigawatt-hours of clean solar power to date from the California desert. Luz achieved the impossible, reducing the cost of wholesale solar thermal power from 24 cents to just 8 cents.

You’d think America would be glad of all that clean energy over all those years, but on the contrary, the regressive energy policy of the Reagan years bankrupted Luz within its early years, cutting short clean power in the US. Shortsighted tax preferences for the fossil energy industry killed the first solar thermal company in the world. The project was bought by a US utility. Luz returned to Israel and began again as BrightSource Industries.

Now the company, originally dreamed up by the visionary Arnold Goldman with engineer Israel Croizer, has risen again and is getting a second chance in California – with a new green president in America – our first since Carter to act on the need to build green power in the US.

Earlier this year the Obama administration offered BrightSource Energy a loan guarantee of $1.37 if the company could assuage the concerns of those who value 25 or so local tortoises over the rest of the world’s eco system endangered by climate change. It did. It cut down the size of the project and switched to dry cooling.

Oh, and it had to break ground by the end of 2010.

This week the ground was broken on BrightSource Energy’s 392 MW solar thermal site at Ivanpah, five miles from the California border, near a Nevada casino area, and well sited next to a natural gas electric power plant; so that it already has two major transmission lines.

The siting is both visionary – and environmentally sensible. Instead of extensive land grading, the mirrors are mounted on individual poles that are placed directly into the ground, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and avoid areas of sensitive vegetation.

This design also allows for vegetation to co-exist within the solar field. It will be air cooled, reducing – by 90% – its need for water. Only a hundred acre feet a year is needed to wash the mirrors. As climate change heats a nation that has foolishly favored fossil fuels, which cause climate change, which cause drought, which will shut down water thirsty fossil power plants – BrightSource Energy will still be pumping out our power.

As a Californian, I want to say thanks to Luz-BrightSource for all the clean electrons all these years, and sorry from America for our horrible and inconsistent energy policy. Let’s hope things go better this time!

Image: Desertec

6 thoughts on “Luz Rises Again as BrightSource for California

  1. William Naylor

    I worked as a welder in the pipe dept. for LUZ and as a mason for LUZ construction management during the late 1980’s. I was working on the kramer junction site when unknown to me they were illegally dumping carcinogenic therminol contaminated soil near the corner closest to Mojave Calif. when heavy winds caused a “blowout” and I was saturated with so much therminol contaminated soil that I was bleeding from several orifaces and nearly died. My lungs permanently injured and they settled out of court for $500k but instead of paying me they filed chapter !! re=orginization and were given 6 months to sort out debts. they used underhanded tactics to avoid paying not only myself but several others who were harmed by their actions and II still haven’t recieved any of the settlement promised even nbow after more than 2 decades. They are a bunch of crooks. I also saw a documentary on the cancer cluster at mojave Ca. and realized that when LUZ buried the therminol at that particular site they may have helped cause the cancer cluster. They say environmental friendly but I say LUZ is a corporate monster hell bent on exploiting whatever and whoever they can to profit. nuff said.

    Reply
    • William Naylor

      I forgot to say that it’s no wonder they changed the name after screwing over so many people and families under the name of LUZ. Well I guess it wasn’t nuff said last time.

      Reply
  2. jerry

    two corrections on your history. first the DOE loan guarantee program is actually a Bush administration program. BrightSource applied for the loan guarantee long before Obama became your green president. It became associated with the Obama stimulus when the program was expanded but let’s be serious – how many companies have gotten loan guarantees for solar projects ? (answer: 2). second Brightsource planned the project with dry cooling already from the 2007 application to the california energy comission – you can look it up on the CEC website.

    Reply
    • Susan Kraemer Post author

      Actually, the 30% cash grants (only up to Dec 2010 deadline) were only passed in the 2009 Recovery Act – stimulus bill – under the Obama administration, although the the 30% solar tax credits themselves were passed by the Democrats (and much derided by the Republicans as Christmas tree trimmings/”pork”) by sneaking them into bank Bailout bill in 2008.

      And the 2005 Federal loan guarantee program was deliberately left unfunded by Bush, at least for solar. It finally got funded (activated) under Obama in 2009, with the first loan guarantee ever for solar going to Solyndra.

      Thanks, you are correct about the dry cooling, I was thinking of another company in this solar rush to the finish line!

      Reply

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