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BrightSource, NextEra Get California Solar Approvals

California regulators approved renewable power contracts totaling more than 400 megawatts for utilities PG&E Corp. and Edison International to help to meet state energy goals.

PG&E, owner of the state’s largest utility, won the California Public Utilities Commission’s permission today to buy electricity from a 250-megawatt solar plant being developed by a unit of NextEra Energy Inc., the largest U.S. producer of wind and solar power. The cost of the Riverside County, California, plant and the value of the contract weren’t disclosed.

Before today, the state during the last seven years had approved contracts for 5,113 megawatts of existing solar, wind, biomass and geothermal plants and another 7,795 megawatts that haven’t been completed yet, according commission data. A total of 5,935 megawatts of new renewable energy contracts were awaiting regulatory approval as of July 30.

“Once a power purchase agreement comes to a vote, it’s almost never rejected by the commission,” said Matt Freedman, a lawyer for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group that participates in regulatory decisions and supports the state’s effort to increase renewable energy supplies.

California ordered its utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by the end of this year. The commission doesn’t expect that goal to be met, and may allow extensions to as late as 2013 in cases where transmission lines aren’t available.

Ivanpah Solar

Edison’s Southern California Edison utility won permission today from regulators to buy 117-megawatts from the Ivanpah solar plant being developed in California’s Mojave Desert by closely held BrightSource Energy Inc. PG&E already won approval to buy 275 megawatts from the project. A megawatt is enough power for about 800 typical U.S. homes, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The California Energy Commission is reviewing the entire 392-megawatt Ivanpah plant, and on Aug. 3 a panel recommended approval, starting a 30-day public comment period after which the agency will make a final decision.

BrightSource expects to have all the permits needed to start construction this year, the company said last week. The project is on federal land.

Ivanpah’s three phases would use arrays of pole-mounted mirrors, or heliostats, to reflect the sun’s rays to boilers mounted on top of towers, heating the water inside to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 Celsius). The resulting steam would then be piped to an electricity-generating turbine.

Commissioner Dissent

The commission also approved by a vote of 4 to 1 today the contract between San Francisco-based PG&E and Eurus Energy America Corp. for 48 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power. The contract’s costs are confidential, the commission said.

Commissioner John Bohn voted against the agreement, saying it would be too costly for utility customers compared with other renewable contracts the commission has approved.

Edison is based in Rosemead, California and NextEra Energy is based in Juno Beach, Florida. Eurus Energy America is jointly owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Toyota Tsusho Corp., according to its website. BrightSource is based in Oakland, California.

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