Back in March 2008, NextEra Energy filed the original application for certification with the California Energy Commission (CEC) for a 250 MW plant.
Twenty-nine months later, the full commission finally approved the project.
This is the first pure concentrating solar power (CSP) plant approved by the CEC since SEGS X in 1990 (although it should be noted that the CEC did approve a 50 MW solar hybrid plant in Victorville in 2008).
Summary of the NextEra Beacon Solar Project
Output: 250 MW gross
Land: 2,012 acres of former farmland (alfalfa)
Technology: Parabolic Trough
Cost: ~$1B (which works out to $4.00/W of AC power)
Expected online date: Originally 2012 (now 2013-14)
Water usage: 456 million gallons/yr of groundwater
Why did it take so long to approve? There are a couple reasons.
1. Lost knowledge
From 1990-2007, there weren't any CSP project proposals in front of the CEC, so the staff familiar with the projects have likely retired, requiring the new folks to get up to speed on the technology.
This project is wet-cooled, and is projected to require 456 million gallons of water per year. That might be a relatively minor concern in the rainy Pacific Northwest, but this plant is in the Mojave Desert, which receives about five inches of rainfall per year.
Part of the solution proposed is that Beacon will use recycled water pumped in from a nearby town.
This is a big hurdle to clear, but several more remain for Beacon Solar.
PPA: this project needs to sign a PPA with a major utility (PG&E, SCE, or SDG&E) - and then get the PPA approved by the CPUC
Financing: this project will likely need the subsidized debt that comes with a Federal Loan Guarantee, in order to make the economics work for the equity investor (see our previous article on "Why a PPA is Not Enough").
Nevertheless, this is a promising sign, as the CEC was able to move from a proposed decision to a final decision in ~2 months, which means that Brightsource, Abengoa, and STA should have final decisions on their projects by early October.
See the table below for more details on the U.S. CSP projects in the pipeline, along with the regulatory milestones cleared (and outstanding).
Click image to enlarge