BrightSource Approved for Two of Five California Solar Contracts

California approved today two proposed power-purchase agreements for BrightSource Energy Inc. (BRSE) solar projects and rejected three that regulators said were too expensive.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved unanimously the Oakland, California-based solar company’s deals to sell power to Edison International (EIX) from its Rio Mesa 2 and Sonoran West projects, and denied proposals for its Rio Mesa 1 and Siberia 1 and 2 plants.

BrightSource develops solar-thermal systems, which focus the sun’s energy to heat a boiler and drive a steam turbine. The technology generally is more expensive than photovoltaic panels, the most common solar system, and regulators said the projects they approved included capabilities, such as storage, that panels can’t provide.

“Storage significantly improves the value” of solar- thermal systems, CPUC President Michael Peevey said at today’s meeting. “Ratepayers’ long-term interest will be best served in my view by beginning to invest now in advanced technologies.”

The Sonoran West project in Riverside County is expected to begin delivering power to Southern California Edison in 2017, according to a commission filing. It features a vat of molten salt that retains heat and lets the system generate electricity for several hours after the sun has set.

‘Necessary Precursor’

Rio Mesa 2, also in Riverside County, doesn’t have storage and was approved because it includes technical advances that are considered “a necessary precursor” to developing solar-thermal systems that do use molten salt, Peevey said. It’s expected to be complete in 2015.

Energy storage will be necessary to meet California’s goal of getting 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, commissioner Michel Florio said.

“The Sonoran West project gives us this extremely valuable technology that is really what we’re going to need in the future,” Florio said.

The CPUC rejected the Rio Mesa 1 contract because it “compares poorly on price and value,” regulators said. The Siberia 1 and 2 projects included storage and were denied due to “uncertainty regarding transmission availability” that would require costly upgrades. The proposed electricity prices that the utility would pay for power weren’t disclosed.

Rio Mesa “will continue to move forward as planned,” Kristin Hunter, a BrightSource spokeswoman, said today by e- mail. “The Siberia project will remain a part of BrightSource’s 90,000 acre site portfolio.”

Edison International’s Southern California Edison utility has agreed to buy about one-third of the output from BrightSource’s 377-megawatt Ivanpah project in San Bernardino County, which is almost 60 percent complete.

BrightSource has seven additional contracts with PG&E Corp. (PCG)’s Pacific Gas & Electric utility to deliver 1,310 megawatts of capacity from multiple projects, including about two-thirds of Ivanpah’s output.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Herndon in San Francisco at aherndon2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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