The DOE clearly has a crush on concentrating solar power (CSP).
Energy Secretary Steven Chu just announced another loan guarantee in a long line of loan guarantees for CSP plants. That makes almost $6 billion so far for CSP from a DOE loan guarantee program total of about $40 billion.
Today's recipient was the Genesis Solar Project, a 250-megawatt parabolic trough CSP plant sponsored by NextEra Energy Resources to be built on Bureau of Land Management land in Riverside County, California. The DOE portion is a guarantee for $852 million. The total financing is $935 million.
A few words in those previous sentences might set off some red flags:
BLM. BLM lands are usually subject to more stringent environmental review -- note BrightSource's new desert tortoise healthcare division. This Genesis CSP plant is in the Sonoran desert and occupies its own ecological niche. Native American artifacts are also a consideration in this region.
Parabolic trough. Recently, a 500-megawatt trough plant that Solar Trust had been planning in Blythe, California converted to photovoltaic panels. That is one of several CSP plants that flipped to photovoltaics. This is not an indictment of solar trough technology, but more a judgment of the financing being brought to bear. NextEra, with 2010 revenues of more than $15 billion and nearly 43,000 megawatts of generating capacity, has immense financial resources and access to lower cost money. NextEra, though, is also in the process of switching the Beacon solar project from trough to photovoltaics, so they have some experience in this technology pivot.
Unlike most of the recipients of DOE loan guarantees which are, in fact, actual loans, this financing is truly a loan guarantee under the Financial Institution Partnership Program (FIPP) program. The lender in this case is Credit Suisse and the DOE will back up to 80 percent of the eligible costs of the loan.
GTM Research estimates the cost of this project at $1,250 million or $5.00 per watt-AC and suggests that NextEra is contributing $300 million using its own balance sheet. Brett Prior, GTM Research Analyst, comments that, "If Solar Trust had that kind of cash laying around, Blythe might still be a trough project, too."
GTM Research tracks the details of every major utility-scale solar power project in The PV Project Tracker and examines and analyzes the CSP market in this report.
Vital Statistics for the Genesis Solar Energy Project
Developer: NextEra Energy Resources
Status: Under development
Technology: Parabolic trough / no storage / wet cooling
Gross Capacity: 250 megawatts
Location: Blythe, California (Riverside County)
Capacity Factor: 26 percent
Electricity generation: 560 gigawatt-hours per year
Acres per megawatt: 7.2
Owner and operator: NextEra Energy Resources
Electricity Purchaser: PG&E
Heat Transfer Fluid: Therminol VP-1
Outlet Temperature: 393 deg C
Regulatory status: PPA approved
PPA Period (yrs): 25
Land Type: Public
Federal Loan Guarantee: $852M Conditional Commitment (1705 FIPP), June 2011
Construction jobs created: 800
Permanent Jobs Created: 47
GTM Research Solar Analyst Brett Prior contributed to the article.