Thursday, February 12, 2009
An Oakland energy firm announced 20-year contracts that would supply Southern California Edison with enough solar power to light up 845,000 homes if the plan receives regulatory approval.
The agreement between Rosemead-based SoCal Edison and BrightSource Energy Inc. is believed to be the biggest-ever deal for solar thermal power, which uses heat from the sun to create steam to spin turbines. The project calls for seven plants, totaling 1,300 megawatts, to be built in southeastern California over the next seven years.
Though the project still requires approval by the state Public Utilities Commission, the companies say the first 100-megawatt facility could be built in the Mojave Desert near the Nevada border and be operational by 2013.
SoCal Edison would not say what it's paying BrightSource. The PUC allows that information to remain confidential.
"We do see solar as the large untapped resource, particularly in Southern California," said Stuart Hemphill, vice president for renewable and alternative power at SoCal Edison.
The agreement unveiled Wednesday was the second major contract announced by BrightSource. It signed a deal last year with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to supply the San Francisco-based utility with up to 900 megawatts of solar thermal power.
State law requires SoCal Edison, PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to get 20 percent of their electricity from clean sources by the end of 2010. Edison generates 16 percent of its power from renewable sources and has been one of the most active in pursuing clean alternatives to fossil fuels.
Renewable-energy analysts have high hopes for solar-thermal power. Some believe the technology will generate electricity as cheaply as dirty coal within 15 years.
But some environmentalists oppose the technology because it requires vast tracts of land and precious water for generating steam and cooling the turbines.