Cosmic timing.  The very same day we launch our CSP Tracker, the California Energy Commission (CEC) grants final approval to the world's largest solar project - Solar Millennium/Chevron's 1,000 MW Blythe project.  More details below.


CSP has been an industry on the verge "taking off" for a couple of years now.

But, with some major projects receiving significant approvals from the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in recent months, it looks like several of these Goliath projects really are close to crossing the finish line.

In order to help readers keep track of all these projects and the various hoops that they still need to jump through, GTM Research has created a comprehensive tracker with details on all the approvals received, as well as the hurdles that remain outstanding.

Click here to see the a full-page version of the project tracker (last updated September 16, 2010).

For those too lazy to click on the link (or those who dislike Excel spreadsheets), here is the bottom line: 

45 CSP projects are currently under development; the total is 11 GW, and 8.1 GW with signed PPAs.

CSP projects have had signed PPAs for a while, and yet they have been stalled for years -- so what changed recently to prompt the flood of permitting approvals?

An impending deadline.

The Treasury Grant Program is due to expire 12/31/2010.  So if these projects want to receive the 30% grant (rather than a tax credit), they need to start construction by the end of the year.  This deadline compelled the BLM to create a fast-track program, and this program is really speeding things up for the 10 CSP projects that made it onto the list.  As a result, there is a good chance that construction will begin on several of the 10 fast-tracked CSP projects before the end of 2010 -- with a combined total capacity of over 5,000 MW!

That is a massive number.  To put it in perspective, the total PV installed in the U.S. in 2009 was ~500 MW, or about one-tenth the pipeline of fast-tracked CSP projects.

The project tracker will be updated regularly, and the URL link will remain the same to allow readers to bookmark the page, and revisit it to find the latest version.

It should be noted that the regulatory approvals required are not the same for all projects -- they depend on the location of the project (i.e., which state it is in), whether the land is private or public, and other factors.

To better illustrate the "typical process" for getting a massive CSP plant permitted, I have reconstructed the timeline for one of the flagship projects in the CSP space: Brightsource's Ivanpah.

Note that there are 4 separate (and simultaneous) approval tracks:

1) PPA (Power Purchase Agreement):

Month 9: PPA signed by utility
Month 37: PPA approved by PUC

2) Land (Federal permitting process only required for projects on public BLM land):

Month 4: Notice of Intent published
Month 28: Draft EIS published
Month 37: Final EIS published
Month 39 (Oct 6, 2010): Record of Decision expected

3) State Energy Commission

Month 1 (Aug 2007): Application for Certification (AFC) filed with the California Energy Commission (CEC)
Month 3: Commission accepts Application as complete and "data adequate."
Month 5: Commission staff releases Preliminary Staff Assessment.
Month 28: Commission staff releases Final Staff Assessment.
Month 37: Committee releases Presiding Member's Proposed Decision.
Month 39: (Sept 15, 2010): CEC Final Decision expected

4) Dept of Energy Loan Guarantee (Title XVII)

Month ~7: Applied for Loan Guarantee
Month 31: Conditional Commitment
Month ?: Execution of final loan guarantees

Data is pulled from multiple sources, including:

- Bureau of Land Management, Fast-Track Projects
- CPUC List of RPS Projects
- CEC Listing of Projects
- Discussions with project developers

Note that this tracker does not include any CPV projects.  The two CPV projects under development are:
-1 MW from Chevron in NM
-30 MW of Amonix trackers developed by Cogentrix in CO

If you have any suggestions to improve this tracker, please contact Brett Prior at GTM Research (email address: prior at gtmresearch.com)

Lastest Update:

9/15/10: The 968 MW Blythe project, jointly developed by STA (Solar Millennium) & Chevron Energy, received final approval from the CEC.  The only outstanding hurdle is the final record of decision from the BLM which is expected before the end of October.

Expected cost is $5B, which will require a staggering amount of project finance.  Seems like an excellent candidate for the DOE loan guarantee program - although it is not clear if this project would meet the "innovative" criteria, as trough plants (without storage) have been around since the 1980s.  The project is to be built in phases, so perhaps they can finance the first 242 MW (total cost of $1.2B) without a DOE loan guarantee.

This is a major milestone - both for Solar Millennium, and for the CSP industry overall.  

Scheduled hearings:

The CEC is scheduled to make a final decision on Brightsource's Ivanpah next week (9/22), and the following week (9/29) should see final decisions on NextEra's Genesis, and Tessera/Stirling's Imperial.  Combined these 3 projects represent another 1,351 MW of solar capacity.  Stay tuned for more updates soon.

Click on the table below to view the full-page PDF version.