BrightSource pulls plug

brightsource.jpgAfter months of untold staff time, trips to Sacramento and a formal agreement, Inyo County learned Wednesday that BrightSource Energy suspended its permit application for the Hidden Hills Solar Energy project in Death Valley.

Inyo officials had haggled repeatedly with BrightSource over how much the project would cost Inyo County. The County Administrator, Planning Director and other department heads devoted many hours to calculating costs and representing the County at hearings before the California Energy Commission and their staff.

After final hearings went forward, BrightSource issued a statement that said on Wednesday BrightSource “informed the California Energy Commission that it is suspending its permit application for the Hidden Hills…project.” The statement goes on to say that “This week, PG&E and BrightSource mutually agreed to terminate the power purchase agreements in connection with the Hidden Hills project due to challenges associated with the project schedule and uncertainty around the timing of transmission upgrades.”

BrightSource referred to the need for solar thermal power with storage. They said Hidden Hills is a good site for that type of technology but to change plans would require reopening of the evidentiary record to account for new impacts.

A similar turn of events happened in January when BrightSource and Southern California Edison “mutually terminated” a power purchase agreement for two projects near Blythe, California. BrightSource had asked the Energy Commission to put those projects on hold. BrightSource officials now say they will focus on the Palen project in Riverside County. This project was already permitted by the CEC.

When asked for the County’s response to the sudden BrightSource news about Hidden Hills, Inyo County Administrator Kevin Carunchio said, “We received word that BrightSource suspended its permit application Wednesday and were shocked. The project seemed to have a lot of momentum within the CEC process, but it sounds like there were greater issues at play.”

Carunchio confirmed that the agreement signed by Inyo and BrightSource runs with the project and so it is suspended as long as the application is but “remains in place if the project is resumed.”


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30 Responses to BrightSource pulls plug

  1. Desert Tortoise April 4, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    California and Inyo County never stood to derive much benefit from this project. Most if not all of the employees at the site would end up residing in Nevada while the construction work would all go to specialists from other regions. Any benefit to the local economy would be short term and limited, while the county was expected to fork over quite a bit for road improvements that the project would never begin to repay.

  2. Desert Tortoise April 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Here is a site with excellent detail of the project.

    Lots of unresolved and contentious problems with this proposed project.

    • Eastern Sierra Local April 5, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      All I see are environmental arguments against a “green” environmentally sound project….a “green” agenda pitted against another “green” agenda. Looks to me like the “Greenies” have painted themselves into a corner.

      • Ken Warner April 5, 2013 at 11:37 am #

        When I see “environmental” arguments against renewable energy, I always wonder who the sources of those arguments are. The source of such arguments is never clear. And I suspect but can’t prove that the Fossil Fuel Industry is a likely source. They aren’t stupid. And turning environmental concerns against renewable energy sources
        is a clever strategy

        Both the BrightSource solar-thermal plant and the area roads are investments in the future. The cost of those projects may be exorbitant today but in 20 or 40 years, the cost will seem insignificant.

        Roads means traffic –traffic means business opportunity. Had both BrightSource and the roads been built and improved, that area would be transformed into a center of commerce. And 20-40 years from now, who knows what that area would be. There’s room there for many solar thermal plants and who knows what the technology for such energy plants will be. Future plants will most likely be quite different than the proposed plant.

        The society can’t make all wining bets — but placing no bets on the future guarantees no wins.

        When 395 was built in the ’30’s, nobody could have envisiond what has happened to the surrounding areas. And I’m sure there was harsh criticism of the project at the time.

        It takes vision and intelligence to embark on projects that will pay off long after you are dead. But that’s real leadership and that is what is profoundly lacking in our current political structure that barely can plan 3 months ahead.

        It’s just a pity…

        • Jeremiah's ego April 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

          True that Ken, the hidden agendas and bias reports run rampant. This “entitlement” of instant gratification is one of our biggest enemys, “The society can’t make all wining bets — but placing no bets on the future guarantees no wins.” So true. . .

        • GreekChorus April 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

          I often agree with your opinions; however, in this matter, I do not support any County new road involvement that would include enticing new business models along roads.

          • Ken Warner April 7, 2013 at 7:43 am #

            There’s a bunch of people who are crying for jobs. Theey might disagree with you.

            With an ever increasing population, your position is difficult to justify. To be honest, I would like to go back to the 1960’s also. But yet, here we are….

          • Wayne Deja April 7, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

            Ken…Problem is,a lot of those people “crying for jobs” are the same people turning down jobs that don’t pay “DWP-type” wages….which,in most cases,just ain’t going to happen up here in Inyo and Mono live up here,and enjoy the things we do,most of us have to sacrifice the high-paying jobs that we could probably get if we were to move to the big cities,but then be dealing with big-city living conditions,high crime rates,lots of traffic,and other bad and annoying things that go along with it.When I chose to make Lone Pine my home,I knew the sacrifices I was going to have to make to live there…and I lucked out with good bosses’ to work for, low rent to be paying,nice people to work for and with……and good fishing and camping less than 20 minutes from my front door.

        • Desert Tortoise April 7, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

          Try reading and quoting the whole discussion regarding the water table:

          “The CEC hydrologist disagreed. He said the data fit a fully confined aquifer characterization better. They believed drawdown could reach Stump Springs at 30 years, and could even be several feet of lowering. There is still enough uncertainty. As for leakance, the hydrologist said not enough data was collected for a long period, there could be temporary leakance. “Where is it coming from?” asked the CEC hydrologist. The recharge must be looked at not locally but for the whole aquifer, and all evidence indicated the Pahrump Valley aquifer was not recharging. Storage is extremely low other tests showed. There may be confining units such as clay beds at Stump Springs, that a drawdown could impact. The Energy Commission hydrologist said it was mathematically impossible to have the BrightSource hydrologist’s drawdown solutions. He said the applicant needed to reach out much farther in their analysis. A gradient in a confined system is not a source of recharge.”

          Who has the hidden agenda here Mr. Warner? The state hydrologist called out Bright Source’s hydrologist sloopy methodology. Why didn’t you mention that part?

      • Desert Tortoise April 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

        Is it really an “environmental argument” if you are worried that your well will run dry because a Johnny-come-lately decides to suck the water out of your aquifer based on a shabby examination of the ground water basin?

        • Ken Warner April 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

          Please explain. Who did what analysis and on what do you base your classification of “shabby”?

          • Desert Tortoise April 5, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

            Sigh. Scroll down the following link to the section titled “Workshops hammer out issues with water and safety”


            This is the same link I posted earlier. Read what the hydrologist from the California Energy Commission had to say about the analysis performed by the hydrologist hired by Bright Source. You can read it easier than I can type it out here.

            Likewise read the paragraphs detailing the concerns of well owners in that valley. Yup, real greenies at work here. Do you draw your water from a well? Does being concerned about your well drying up make you a greenie?

            Btw, don’t think I didn’t notice your flippant disregard for the condition of the aquifer of a valley other than the Owens Valley.

          • Ken Warner April 7, 2013 at 9:37 am #

            I guess I’ll have to take your word for the “shabby” classification. I didn’t see anything that would lead me to that conclusion but I’m no hydrologist.


            “Clay Johnson, project manager for BrightSource, said the 148 acre-feet per year of water use during operation of the solar plant would have limited impact on wells. “We’re like an alfalfa farm.”

            BrightSource did a well pump test at the request of CEC to learn more about the aquifer in the area, but the interpretations of the data were widely divergent between the applicant and the Energy Commission hydrologists. Most of the workshop was taken up by a debate on how to characterize the aquifer.”


            “Possible financing issues may be weighing on the project, but the larger culprit appears to be the need for a speedy review and approval to meet federal solar tax credit deadlines in 2016.

            The big hitch may be transmission, which has plagued so many large-scale remote renewable energy projects. The lack of transmission or the lengthy separate permitting process has hindered many developers. Power Purchase agreements for the Hidden Hills project had specific time frames that cannot be met by the schedule for construction of a transmission line on Bureau of Land Management land from Ivanpah Valley up past Good Springs, NV, to the Hidden Hills site near Pahrump. This process is a completely separate environmental review than the actual power plant process. Complications because the project lies in California and the transmission line passes through Nevada may also have played a roll in the delay.”

            So no easy answers here. And I simply asked a question. You imagined the insult. Relax. We are just having a discussion. Thanks for the guidance to the relevant source. There’s a lot to filter through.

  3. Desert Rat April 4, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    This is the result of Inyo County trying to shake down the goose that could have laid the golden egg.

  4. Tim April 5, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    I dislike seeing ugly solar panel fields in remote barren areas. Why don’t they install this eye sore down in Los Angeles where it is already ugly? The main bonus is that it is cheapest to work on flat barren dirt. Perhaps it was also more difficult than anticipated to romance the county. In any case it was big money for someone at our expense.

    • Ken Warner April 5, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      How often are you in that area? And have you ever seen an oil field? Or a gas fired power plant? Would the BrightSouce plant be the only thing you could see in that area that you use roads, gasoline and cars to get to?

      Such “Visual Pollution” arguments always seem hollow to me given the larger viewpoint which must include our current energy/transportation infrastructure.

      • Desert Tortoise April 5, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

        I just adore driving through Maricopa, Taft and McKittrick. Lovely places, all.

  5. Reality Check April 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Tim, the solar panels need to be where they can get the most sun. This is in the desert. Fossil fuels to produce electricity are a finate resource that are getting more difficult to obtain. The low hangng fruit has been picked so the return on energy invested raito is getting smaller.

    I would rather see solar panels in the desert than nuke plants or coal plants near someone elses house.

    • Desert Tortoise April 5, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

      There is no shortage of sunshine in LA and plenty of parking lots, warehouse and shopping center roofs to put solar panels on. The whole of the former Chatsworth Reservoir could be a very nice solar installation. Likewise the bed of the former Upper Van Norman Reservoir, abandoned since it was badly damaged by the 1971 Sylmar quake. Clobber those with solar panels instead.

      • Reality Check April 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

        DT, Bright Source technology is solar thermal concentration not photovoltaics so roof tops in Los Angeles are not an option. Their solar concentration technology is similar to what you see at Four Corners as you head south on HWY 395.

        When installing a multi million dollar solar system the end game is to operate at a profit and squeeze every watt possible out of every ray of sunshine. Los Angeles is good but not optimal. As you can see from this map, it appears the area of Inyo County that Bright Source is considering, is a solar hot spot for solar insolation.

      • Ken Warner April 7, 2013 at 7:53 am #

        Utilizing local structures to support solar-photovoltaic installations is a very good idea and many places around the World are adapting that model.

        There is of course, the ongoing counter-renewable energy campaign by the Fossil Fuel Industry that will present some sort of reason not to. That reason will likely sound good but be groundless.

        Another tactic the FFI uses is to lobby for regulations that would kill such efforts by making the installations too expensive. Could be the BrightSource project ran into that kind of resistance. I didn’t follow it very closely.

        • Desert Tortoise April 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

          Ken, the price of photovoltaic has fallen so much in recent years that plants like the one in four corners, which I am very familiar with, are no longer economical to build. This is a big reason why Solar Millenium AG went out of business. They abandoned plans to build similar plants in several nations due to the high relative cost of such plants and their effect on the water table.

          Rooftop photovoltaic has become cost competitive, especially when you factor in the cost of transmission that doesn’t have to be built when your power generation occurs at the point of use.

          Btw, alfalfa is the most water intensive crop you can grow. Comparing the water use of this plant to an alfalfa field is like saying the fuel consumption of your back yard generator is no worse than that of a 1969 Ford LTD. We use more water to grow alfalfa in this state than is used by all the urban water users in California. It is the height of stupidity to grow alfalfa in the desert. Likewise one of these solar plants.

    • Tim April 7, 2013 at 12:20 am #

      I love the low hanging fruit reference, I use it often myself when admiring perspective breeding stock at truck stops and bars (SNIRK ;-). The desert is the low hanging fruit in this case. As technology progresses it is likely that solar panels will be better suited to cities where people are, when this happens those desert panels will be deserted (Pun intended), or at least their parts with no recyclable appeal.
      As for the nukes, I would rater see no nuke plants at all, when the next big quake hits near Diablo or San Anofre causing a Fucushima type disaster there is going to be quite a bit of cheap ocean front real estate available between LA and San Diego, that is for people with flesh still on their bones.
      Good news though with your plan, in 100 years those panels will be considered historical artifacts protected by the full force of BLM and solar panels will be so efficient that one the size of a wristwatch will run your car. Neither of us will be there to see it, that is the downfall of humanity, our expiration negates our ability to act on the previous generations misgivings.

      • Reality Check April 7, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

        Tim, I agree with you on the nukes. All nuke plants rely on the grid to operate safely. If f the grid goes down for longer than the nuke plant’s diesel generators can run, it will get ugly very quickly. Having done some security consuting work regarding nuke plants, the majority of the spent fuel rods and other waste is stored on site. (Hence our work) Those fuel rods must be kept cool for longer than we will live. The storage of nuclear waste has not been solved.

        We must shut the nukes down while we can still do it safely with a electrical grid that still works.

        What do we replace them with and how do we deal with a country that still believes in the Infinite Growth Paradigm?

        As far as fossil fuels go, when the age of oil started it took one barrel of oil to recover 100 barrels of oil. It now takes 10 barrels of oil to recover 100 barrels of oil. This is what I mean byt the low hanging fruit has been picked. Who would have thought 40 years ago that we would be drilling in the Gulf through 5,000 feet of water and 3,000 feet of bedrock to get oil?

        If you pick and chose on where you want to put solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and you want to get rid of nukes, what is your solution to power this growing country of 330 million people?

  6. Jeremiah's ego April 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    If we intend to survive on this planet, we need to align ourselves with MotherEarth’s natural order laws!
    Whether your a fundamentalist, conservative, liberal or progressive it doesn’t matter because what you believe is always bound to MotherEarths natural order laws.
    We have these life support systems on decline, climate instability, and growing destabilization across the world due to this whack market and monetary system.
    To me i doesn’t matter where we put these green energy projects, as long as it is efficient and takes a step away from this cyclical consumption that is very self serving and selfish to the generations after us!

  7. Wayne Deja April 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    Just out of curiosity,what ever happened to that gold mining operation,Cougar Gold, that was supposed to “save” Bridgeport ,where they were going to tear into the Bodie Hills,and employ “hundreds” of local citizens…and do no damage to the land ?..When that operation was being debated,it seemed lots of locals saw through those empty promises…. and lies.I think when it was reported one of the company heads used to be a campaign adviser for Sarah Palin,that might have helped people see just how honest they were going to the people of Mono County….not….

    • Wayne Deja April 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      ….and wonder about another of those out-of-towner operations meant to “enhance” and employ without taking away from the land…or,in this case,the “view of the sierras”…..outside of Lone Pine near the Alabama Hills…think it was called “Whitney Portal Estates”…where the L.A. dude wanted to sell lots and build these nice,big homes which,if I remember correctly,he stated it would actually “add” to the view of Mt.Whitney ?…..Last time I took a drive up in that area,didn’t see too much building going on….glad that didn’t pan out either.When I go fishing Lone Pine Creek, or walking in the Alabamas,I kinda like what I see now.

  8. Jim Wilson April 7, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    When I bought my property out in Charleston View in the 1990’s, the county had their hair on fire about the possibility of a major residential development out there, requiring road improvements, law enforcement, fire protection, etc. Sound familiar? Water and electric infrastructure has a record of displacing people. Dams flood valleys and towns upstream for water impoundment, flood control and hydroelectric generation. This project, while perhaps visually displeasing, was the “greenest” tech presently available for utility-scale solar.

    For the record, I am a proponent of rooftop solar rather than utility-scale, and am particularly tired of subsidizing energy companies, whether solar, geo, nuke or fossil, but we do need to make plans for when fossil fuels are no longer available.

    • Reality Check April 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      Jim, for the record I am also a big supporter of Roof Top Solar. The biggest advantage is that because it is do dispersed, it does not require any big infrastructure upgrades like additional transmission lines.

  9. esfotoguy April 7, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Back in the early 90s they wanted to put wind turbines on a remote part of an area outside of Boston Mass that is pretty much windy all the time. It wouldve powered 10000s of homes and businesses in the area. There was one problem, It was near the Kennedy compound and they didnt want to see wind turbines from their multi million dollar mansion. Remember how pro environment the Kennedys are?One of the Kennedy kids political career has been payed for by the Sierra Club.I am amazed how we are told and legislated to be ‘green’ by the eco wackos[I know Im gonna be called a bigot] I think the objections are more about the fact that corporations will make a lot of money from these projects than objections to locations ect. Cept of course of your Al Gore and one of his Carbon Tax companys.


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