Solar Energy Plant Comes Online in California

Solar energy technology uses smaller footprint that other implementations says solar energy company CEO.

by / October 24, 2008

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today participated in the launch of Ausra's Kimberlina Solar Energy Facility in Bakersfield. The five megawatt (MW) solar thermal power plant, the first to come online in California in more than 15 years, is a demonstration facility for utility-scale thermal solar energy plants, such as the one Ausra is building in San Luis Obispo. That project will be a 177 MW solar thermal power plant whose energy PG&E has already agreed to purchase.

"We're proving that cost competitive solar thermal power at utilitiy scale is real. It works and is now reliably supplying power to California," Ausra chief executive officer, Bob Fishman said.

Ausra's steam production technology can save customers millions of dollars in fuel costs, according to Fishman. Pressured steam can also augment power at conventional power plants, cutting costs and reducing their carbon footprint. It works by using large fields of mirrors to heat water in pipes that gets turned into steam. The steam is then used to drive turbines that generate power. And in addition to being used to generate power, the steam from the Kimberlina solar-thermal energy plant can also be used in such industrial processes as oil recovery and refinery, food processing and paper manufacturing. And these new solar-thermal energy plants use a fraction of the land of other solar-thermal technology implementations, Fishman said.

"This next generation solar power plant is further evidence that reliable, renewable and pollution-free technology is here to stay, and it will lead to more California homes and businesses powered by sunshine," Governor Schwarzenegger said. "Not only will this large-scale solar facility generate power to help us meet our renewable energy goals, it will also generate new jobs as California continues to pioneer the clean-tech industry."

Ausra's Kimberlina facility will employ seven full-time operators. When at full capacity, it will produce enough solar energy to power more than 3,500 homes. Ausra's larger, utility-scale San Luis Obispo facility will employ 350 Californians during construction and create 70 long-term jobs.

The Governor has set a goal of increasing California's renewable energy sources to 20 percent by 2010, and he supports reaching 33 percent by 2020. California's push to increase renewable energy and fight climate change will also boost our economy. According to an economic study released on Monday by the University of California at Berkeley and Next 10, California's policies will create as many as 403,000 jobs in the next 12 years and household incomes will increase by $48 billion. A separate economic study by Navigant Consulting, Inc. estimated that 214,000 permanent jobs in the solar energy sector alone will be generated in California.

"My vision is that when I fly up and down the state of California that I see every available space blanketed with solar-if it is parking lots, if it's on top of buildings, on top of prisons, universities, government buildings, hospitals. That is my goal," Gov. Schwarzenegger said at the launch of the power plant in Bakersfield.

On Tuesday, the governor announced that California has partnered with SunEdison to provide a zero-emission 8 MW solar photovoltaic power system to 15 California State University campuses. Further development is also under way by state departments, including the Department of General Services, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Department of Mental Health, to generate approximately 7 MWs of solar power at five state prison sites and three state mental hospitals. Since 2006, 4.2 MWs of solar power have already been deployed at eight other state facilities through similar power purchase agreements.

To make solar power more accessible to California homeowners, the Governor signed his Million Solar Roofs Plan into law in August 2006. Now known as the California Solar Initiative, it will provide 3,000 MWs of additional clean energy and reduce the output of greenhouse gases by three million tons, equivalent to taking one million cars off the road. The $2.9 billion incentive plan for homeowners and building owners who install solar electric systems will lead to one million solar roofs in California by the year 2018.