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!