Large-scale Calif. project revived after being left for dead

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 27, 2016

A San Diego-based renewable energy company is attempting to revive a long-proposed utility-scale solar power project that appeared dead earlier this year after its Spain-based developer went bankrupt.

EDF Renewable Energy Inc. has filed a new permit application with the Bureau of Land Management to build the Palen Solar Power Project on about 4,200 acres of federal land in Riverside County in Southern California.

BLM is now proposing to conduct a detailed supplement to a final environmental impact statement (EIS) it had issued in May 2011 for a version of the project. The original project backer, Solar Trust of America LLC, went bankrupt just months after the final EIS was released.

EDF in its application is proposing to build a photovoltaic solar power plant on the same site.

As part of the 2011 EIS for the original version of the project, which proposed using solar trough technology, the agency studied as an alternative the impacts of a photovoltaic project, said Frank McMenimen, the BLM project manager for the Palen project based in Palm Springs, Calif.

But the supplemental EIS will be like starting from scratch, McMenimen said.

“It literally starts all over again,” said McMenimen, who estimates the agency won’t have a draft supplemental EIS ready until December 2017 at the earliest.

“The old information is just too old to say we’ll just accept that,” he said of the 2011 final EIS. “Just not possible.”

BLM has opened a public comment period on the new proposal and has scheduled a public meeting next week in Palm Springs to gather public input. The agency plans to schedule a second public meeting, and the public comment period would end 30 days after that second hearing.

For the Palen project, the move by EDF Renewable Energy is just the latest in a long and bizarre saga that has seen the project left for dead at least twice over the past five years.

After Solar Trust of America went bankrupt, Oakland, Calif.-based BrightSource Energy Inc. purchased the rights to the Palen project at a 2012 bankruptcy auction. BLM the next year prepared a draft supplemental EIS analyzing the cumulative environmental and visual impacts of the newest proposal, which proposed using solar thermal technology.

BrightSource Energy backed out, and Seville, Spain-based Abengoa Solar took over. It proposed building a 750-foot-tall power tower and 85,000 heliostat mirrors that would move with the sun, heat water and create steam to drive electric generators.

But Abengoa filed for bankruptcy protection and transferred ownership of the project to an EDF subsidiary while the company underwent a reorganization, including selling off assets.

The project was essentially left for dead in February after the California Energy Commission denied a request by EDF to extend by one year a deadline to begin construction of the planned photovoltaic solar project.

Now the process starts over.

Proponents have argued the project — expected to be capable of producing as much as 500 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power roughly 150,000 homes — would help California meet its renewable portfolio standard and advance President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan.

Native American tribes and environmental groups have argued the site is not appropriate for a utility-scale solar project.